International - Only peace protects freedoms in post-9/11 world



    
    Democracies embroiled in wars outside their own territory, such as the
    United States or Israel, fall further in the ranking every year while
    several emerging countries, especially in Africa and the Caribbean, give
    better and better guarantees for media freedom
    

    MONTREAL, Oct. 22 /CNW Telbec/ - It is not economic prosperity but peace
that guarantees press freedom. That is the main lesson to be drawn from the
world press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders compiles every year
and from the 2008 edition, released today. Another conclusion from the index -
in which the bottom three rungs are again occupied by the "infernal trio" of
Turkmenistan (171st), North Korea (172nd) and Eritrea (173rd) - is that the
international community's conduct towards authoritarian regimes such as Cuba
(169th) and China (167th) is not effective enough to yield results.
    "The post-9/11 world is now clearly drawn," Reporters Without Borders
said. "Destabilised and on the defensive, the leading democracies are
gradually eroding the space for freedoms. The economically most powerful
dictatorships arrogantly proclaim their authoritarianism, exploiting the
international community's divisions and the ravages of the wars carried out in
the name of the fight against terrorism. Religious and political taboos are
taking greater hold by the year in countries that used to be advancing down
the road of freedom."
    "The world's closed countries, governed by the worst press freedom
predators, continue to muzzle their media at will, with complete impunity,
while organisations such as the UN lose all authority over their members,"
Reporters Without Borders added. "In contrast with this generalised decline,
there are economically weak countries that nonetheless guarantee their
population the right to disagree with the government and to say so publicly."

    War and peace

    Two aspects stand out in the index, which covers the 12 months to
1 September 2008. One is Europe's preeminence. Aside from New Zealand and
Canada, the first 20 positions are held by European countries. The other is
the very respectable ranking achieved by certain Central American and
Caribbean countries. Jamaica and Costa Rica are in 21st and 22nd positions,
rubbing shoulders with Hungary (23rd). Just a few position below them are
Surinam (26th) and Trinidad and Tobago (27th). These small Caribbean countries
have done much better than France (35th), which has fallen again this year,
this time by four places, and Spain (36th) and Italy (44th), countries held
back again by political or mafia violence. Namibia (23rd), a large and now
peaceful southern African country that came first in Africa, ahead of Ghana
(31st), was just one point short of joining the top 20.
    The economic disparities among the top 20 are immense. Iceland's per
capita GDP is 10 times Jamaica's. What they have in common is a parliamentary
democratic system, and not being involved in any war.
    This is not the case with the United States (36th domestically and 119th
outside its own territory) and Israel (46th domestically and 149th outside its
own territory), whose armed forces killed a Palestinian journalist for the
first time since 2003. A resumption of fighting also affected Georgia (120th)
and Niger, which fell sharply from 95th in 2007 to 130th this year. Although
they have democratic political systems, these countries are embroiled in low
or high intensity conflicts and their journalists, exposed to the dangers of
combat or repression, are easy prey. The recent provisional release of Moussa
Kaka, the Niger correspondent of RFI and Reporters Without Borders, after 384
days in prison in Niamey and cameraman Sami al-Haj's release after six years
in the hell of Guantanamo serve as reminders that wars sweep away not only
lives but also, and above all, freedom.

    Under fire from belligerents or intrusive governments

    Countries that have become embroiled in very violent conflicts after
failing to resolve serious political problems, such as Iraq (158th), Pakistan
(152nd), Afghanistan (156th) and Somalia (153rd), continue to be highly
dangerous "black zones" for the press, places where journalists are targets
for murder, kidnapping, arbitrary arrest or death threats every day. They may
come under fire from the parties at war. They may be accused of taking sides.
Any excuse will do to get rid of "trouble-makers" and "spies." Such is the
case in the Palestinian Territories (163rd), especially the Gaza Strip, where
the situation got much worse after Hamas seized power. At the same time, in
Sri Lanka (165th), where there is an elected government, the press has to face
violence that is only too often organised by the state.
    Bringing up the rear are the dictatorships - some disguised, some not -
where dissidents and pro-reform journalists manage to open cracks in the walls
that enclose them. The year of the Olympics in the new Asian power, China
(167th), was the year that Hu Jia and many other dissidents and journalists
were jailed. But it also provided opportunities to those liberal media that
are trying gradually to free themselves of the country's still pervasive
police control. Being a journalist in Beijing or Shanghai - or in Iran
(166th), Uzbekistan (162nd) and Zimbabwe (151st) - is a high risk exercise
involving endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment. In
Burma (170th), run by a xenophobic and inflexible junta, journalists and
intellectuals, even foreign ones, have for years been viewed as enemies by the
regime, and they pay the price.

    Unchanging hells

    In Zine el-Abidine Ben Ali's Tunisia (143rd), Muammar Gaddafi's Libya
(160rd), Alexander Lukashenko's Belarus (154th), Bashar el-Assad's Syria
(159e) and Teodoro Obiang Nguema's Equatorial Guinea (156th), the leader's
ubiquitous portrait on the streets and front pages of the newspapers is enough
to dispel any doubt about the lack of press freedom. Other dictatorships do
without a personality cult but are just as suffocating. Nothing is possible in
Laos (164th) or Saudi Arabia (161st) if it does not accord with government
policy.
    Finally, North Korea and Turkmenistan are unchanging hells in which the
population is cut off from the world and is subjected to propaganda worthy of
a bygone age. And in Eritrea (173rd), which has come last for the second year
running, President Issaias Afeworki and his small clan of paranoid
nationalists continue to run Africa's youngest country like a vast open
prison.
    The international community, including the European Union, endlessly
repeats that the only solution continues to be "dialogue." But dialogue has
clearly had little success and even the most authoritarian governments are
still able to ignore remonstrations without risking any repercussions other
than the inconsequential displeasure of the occasional diplomat.

    Dangers of corruption and political hatred

    The other disease that eats away at democracies and makes them lose
ground in the ranking is corruption. The bad example of Bulgaria (59th), still
last in Europe, serves as a reminder that universal suffrage, media pluralism
and some constitutional guarantees are not enough to ensure effective press
freedom. The climate must also favour the flow of information and expression
of opinions. The social and political tensions in Peru (108th) and Kenya
(97th), the media politicisation in Madagascar (94th) and Bolivia (115th) and
the violence against investigative journalists in Brazil (82nd) are all
examples of the kinds of poison that blight emerging democracies. And the
existence of people who break the law to get rich and who punish inquisitive
journalists with impunity is a scourge that keeps several "great countries" -
such as Nigeria (131st), Mexico (140th) and India (118th) - in shameful
positions.
    Certain would-be "great countries" deliberately behave in a manner that
is brutal, unfair or just disturbing. The examples include Venezuela (113th),
where President Hugo Chavez's personality and decrees are often crushing, and
the Putin-Medvedev duo's Russia (141st), where state and opposition media are
strictly controlled and journalists such as Anna Politkovskaya are killed each
year by "unidentified" gunmen who often turn out to have close links with the
Kremlin's security services.

    Resisting the taboos

    The ranking's "soft underbelly" also includes countries that waver
between repression and liberalisation, where the taboos are still inviolable
and the press laws hark back to another era. In Gabon (110th), Cameroon
(129th), Morocco (122nd), Oman (123rd), Cambodia (126th), Jordan (128th) and
Malaysia (132nd), for example, it is strictly forbidden to report anything
that reflects badly on the president or monarch, or their family and close
associates. Journalists are routinely sent to prison in Senegal (86th) and
Algeria (121st) under repressive legislation that violates the democratic
standards advocated by the UN.
    Online repression also exposes these tenacious taboos. In Egypt (146th),
demonstrations launched online shook the capital and alarmed the government,
which now regards every Internet user as a potential danger. The use of
Internet filtering is growing by the year and the most repressive governments
do not hesitate to jail bloggers. While China still leads the "Internet black
hole" ranking worldwide, deploying considerable technical resources to control
Internet users, Syria (159th) is the Middle-East champion in cyber-repression.
Internet surveillance is so thorough there that even the least criticism
posted online is sooner or later followed by arrest.
    Only a few countries have risen significantly in the ranking. Lebanon
(66th), for example, has climbed back to a more logical position after the end
of the bomb attacks on influential journalists of recent years. Haiti (73rd)
continues its slow rise, as do Argentina (68th) and Maldives (104th). But the
democratic transition has halted in Mauritania (105th), preventing it from
continuing its rise, while the slender gains of the past few years in Chad
(133rd) and Sudan (135th) were swept away by the overnight introduction of
censorship.

    Close-up on... the Americas

    The United States rose eight places to 36th position. The release of
Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay
military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a
federal "shield law" means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened
by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to
reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to
prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in
Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the
investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of
interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain
why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of
the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican
conventions.
    The index's most spectacular fall is Bolivia (115th), which plummeted 47
places. Its institutional and political crisis has exacerbated the
polarisation between state and privately-owned media and exposed journalists
to violence because of their presumed links with the government or opposition.
One state media employee was killed. Unlike Hugo Chavez's government in
Venezuela (113rd), Evo Morales' government has tried to defuse the media war
by repeatedly offering to talk with the opposition.
    Peru (108th) still leads the way as regards the number of physical
attacks on journalists, but the level of violence continues to be greater in
Colombia (126th) and Mexico (140th), where armed groups and drug traffickers
threaten the media's survival in some areas. While the number of journalists
killed in these two countries has fallen, more are fleeing into exile. There
have been signs of opening by Razl Castro's government in Cuba (last in the
Americas at 169th), but they have not changed the human rights situation.
Twenty-three dissident journalists are still in prison and press freedom is
still non-existent.
    Jamaica (21st) and Trinidad and Tobago (27th) are joined in the top 30
this year by Surinam (26th), which has been included in the index for the
first time, as has Guyana (88th). The latter's low position is due to tension
between President Bharrat Jagdeo's government and the press, and to the
state's monopoly of radio broadcasting. Haiti (73rd) continues to rise slowly
and Argentina (68th) has also improved, but Brazil (82nd) has barely shifted
because of several serious cases of violence against the press.

    Reporters Without Borders defends imprisoned journalists and press
freedom throughout the world. It has nine national sections (Austria, Belgium,
Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Spain, Sweden and Switzerland). It has
representatives in Hong Kong, London, New York, Tokyo and Washington. And it
has more than 120 correspondents worldwide.

    
                World Press Freedom Index 2008 - The rankings

    R a n k      C o u n t r y                                     N o t e
    ----------------------------------------------------------------------
    1            Iceland                                            1,50
    -            Luxembourg                                         1,50
    -            Norway                                             1,50
    4            Estonia                                            2,00
    -            Finland                                            2,00
    -            Ireland                                            2,00
    7            Belgium                                            3,00
    -            Latvia                                             3,00
    -            New Zealand                                        3,00
    -            Slovakia                                           3,00
    -            Sweden                                             3,00
    -            Switzerland                                        3,00
    13           Canada                                             3,33
    14           Austria                                            3,50
    -            Denmark                                            3,50
    16           Czech Republic                                     4,00
    -            Lithuania                                          4,00
    -            Netherlands                                        4,00
    -            Portugal                                           4,00
    20           Germany                                            4,50
    21           Jamaica                                            4,88
    22           Costa Rica                                         5,10
    23           Hungary                                            5,50
    -            Namibia                                            5,50
    -            United Kingdom                                     5,50
    26           Surinam                                            6,00
    27           Trinidad and Tobago                                6,13
    28           Australia                                          6,25
    29           Japan                                              6,50
    30           Slovenia                                           7,33
    31           Cyprus                                             7,50
    -            Ghana                                              7,50
    -            Greece                                             7,50
    -            Mali                                               7,50
    35           France                                             7,67
    36           Bosnia and Herzegovina                             8,00
    -            Cape Verde                                         8,00
    -            South Africa                                       8,00
    -            Spain                                              8,00
    -            Taiwan                                             8,00
    -            United States of America                           8,00
    42           Macedonia                                          8,25
    43           Uruguay                                            8,33
    44           Italy                                              8,42
    45           Croatia                                            8,50
    46           Israel (Israeli territory)                         8,83
    47           Mauritius                                          9,00
    -            Poland                                             9,00
    -            Romania                                            9,00
    -            South Korea                                        9,00
    51           Hong-Kong                                          9,75
    -            Liberia                                            9,75
    53           Cyprus (North)                                    10,00
    -            Montenegro                                        10,00
    -            Togo                                              10,00
    56           Chile                                             11,50
    57           Panama                                            11,83
    58           Kosovo                                            12,00
    59           Bulgaria                                          12,50
    -            Nicaragua                                         12,50
    61           Kuwait                                            12,63
    62           El Salvador                                       12,80
    63           Burkina Faso                                      13,00
    64           Serbia                                            13,50
    65           Timor-Leste                                       13,75
    66           Botswana                                          14,00
    -            Lebanon                                           14,00
    68           Argentina                                         14,08
    69           United Arab Emirates                              14,50
    70           Benin                                             15,00
    -            Malawi                                            15,00
    -            Tanzania                                          15,00
    73           Haiti                                             15,13
    74           Bhutan                                            15,50
    -            Ecuador                                           15,50
    -            Qatar                                             15,50
    -            Seychelles                                        15,50
    -            Zambia                                            15,50
    79           Albania                                           16,00
    -            Fiji                                              16,00
    81           Guinea-Bissau                                     16,33
    82           Brazil                                            18,00
    -            Dominican Republic                                18,00
    -            Tonga                                             18,00
    85           Central African Republic                          18,50
    86           Senegal                                           19,00
    87           Ukraine                                           19,25
    88           Guyana                                            19,75
    89           Comoros                                           20,00
    90           Mozambique                                        20,50
    -            Paraguay                                          20,50
    92           Congo                                             20,75
    93           Mongolia                                          20,83
    94           Burundi                                           21,00
    -            Madagascar                                        21,00
    96           Bahrein                                           21,17
    97           Kenya                                             21,25
    98           Moldova                                           21,38
    99           Guinea                                            21,50
    -            Honduras                                          21,50
    101          Guatemala                                         22,64
    102          Armenia                                           22,75
    -            Turkey                                            22,75
    104          Maldives                                          23,25
    105          Mauritania                                        23,88
    106          Tajikistan                                        25,50
    107          Uganda                                            26,00
    108          Peru                                              26,25
    109          Côte d'Ivoire                                     26,50
    110          Gabon                                             26,75
    111          Indonesia                                         27,00
    -            Kyrgyzstan                                        27,00
    113          Venezuela                                         27,33
    114          Sierra Leone                                      27,75
    115          Bolivia                                           28,20
    116          Angola                                            29,50
    -            Lesotho                                           29,50
    118          India                                             30,00
    119          United States of America (extra-territorial)      31,00
    120          Georgia                                           31,25
    121          Algeria                                           31,33
    122          Morocco                                           32,25
    123          Oman                                              32,67
    124          Thailand                                          34,50
    125          Kazakhstan                                        35,33
    126          Cambodia                                          35,50
    -            Colombia                                          35,50
    128          Jordan                                            36,00
    129          Cameroon                                          36,90
    130          Niger                                             37,00
    131          Nigeria                                           37,75
    132          Malaysia                                          39,50
    133          Chad                                              41,25
    134          Djibouti                                          41,50
    135          Sudan                                             42,00
    136          Bangladesh                                        42,70
    137          Gambia                                            42,75
    138          Nepal                                             43,25
    139          Philippines                                       45,00
    140          Mexico                                            46,13
    141          Russia                                            47,50
    142          Ethiopia                                          47,75
    143          Tunisia                                           48,10
    144          Singapore                                         49,00
    145          Rwanda                                            50,00
    146          Egypt                                             50,25
    147          Swaziland                                         50,50
    148          Democratic Republic of Congo                      51,25
    149          Israel (extra-territorial)                        51,50
    150          Azerbaijan                                        53,63
    151          Zimbabwe                                          54,00
    152          Pakistan                                          54,88
    153          Somalia                                           58,00
    154          Belarus                                           58,33
    155          Yemen                                             59,00
    156          Afghanistan                                       59,25
    -            Equatorial Guinea                                 59,25
    158          Iraq                                              59,38
    159          Syria                                             59,63
    160          Libya                                             61,50
    161          Saudi Arabia                                      61,75
    162          Uzbekistan                                        62,70
    163          Palestinian Territories                           66,88
    164          Laos                                              70,00
    165          Sri Lanka                                         78,00
    166          Iran                                              80,33
    167          China                                             85,50
    168          Vietnam                                           86,17
    169          Cuba                                              88,33
    170          Burma                                             94,38
    171          Turkmenistan                                      95,50
    172          North Korea                                       96,50
    173          Eritrea                                           97,50

         Reporters Without Borders - World press freedom ranking 2008
    




For further information:

For further information: Katherine Borlongan, secretary general,
Reporters Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4188, Fax: (514)
521-7771, rsfcanada@rsf.org

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