Worldwide Press Freedom Index 2007 - Canada drops two places in the world press freedom index - Eritrea ranked last for first time while G8 members, except Russia, recover lost ground



    Bloggers now threatened as much as journalists in traditional media

    MONTREAL, Oct. 16 /CNW Telbec/ - Eritrea has replaced North Korea in last
place in an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries
throughout the world that is published today by Reporters Without Borders for
the sixth year running.
    "There is nothing surprising about this," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea
and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be
at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the
authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to
criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died
in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same
fate."
    Outside Europe - in which the top 14 countries are located - no region of
the world has been spared censorship or violence towards journalists.
    Of the 20 countries at the bottom of the index, seven are Asian
(Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Laos, Vietnam, China, Burma, and North Korea), five are
African (Ethiopia, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Somalia and Eritrea), four are in
the Middle East (Syria, Iraq, Palestinian Territories and Iran), three are
former Soviet republics (Belarus, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan) and one is in
the Americas (Cuba).
    "We are particularly disturbed by the situation in Burma (164th),"
Reporters Without Borders said. "The military junta's crackdown on
demonstrations bodes ill for the future of basic freedoms in this country.
Journalists continue to work under the yoke of harsh censorship from which
nothing escapes, not even small ads. We also regret that China (163rd)
stagnates near the bottom of the index. With less than a year to go to the
2008 Beijing Olympics, the reforms and the releases of imprisoned journalists
so often promised by the authorities seem to be a vain hope."

    G8 members, except Russia, show slight improvement

    After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8
members have recovered a few places. France (31st), for example, has climbed
six places in the past year. French journalists were spared the violence that
affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during
the demonstrations in the city suburbs. But many concerns remain about
repeated censorship, searches of news organisations, and a lack of guarantees
for the confidentiality of journalists' sources.
    There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States
(48th). Blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison and the repeated
attacks on the confidentiality of sources seemed to have let up. But the
detention of Al-Jazeera's Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002
at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in
Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead
group.
    Italy (35th) has also stopped its fall, even if journalists continue to
be under threat from mafia groups that prevent them from working in complete
safety. Japan (37th) has seen a letup in attacks on the press by militant
nationalists, and this has allowed it to recover 14 places.
    "These developments are good news," Reporters Without Borders said.
"Perhaps the repeated calls to these democracies to behave in an exemplary
manner has finally borne fruit. But we must remain careful and vigilant.
Nothing can be taken for granted and we hope this trend will continue or even
accentuate near year. We regret all the same that only two G8 members, Canada
(18th) and Germany (20th), managed to be among the top 20."
    Russia (144th) is not progressing. Anna Politkovskaya's murder in October
2006, the failure to punish those responsible for murdering journalists, and
the still glaring lack of diversity in the media, especially the broadcast
media, weighed heavily in the evaluation of press freedom in Russia.

    Bulgaria and Poland - Europe's bad boys

    All of the European Union member countries made it into the top 50 except
Bulgaria (51st) and Poland (56th). In Sofia, journalists can be physically
attacked because of their work. The climate got even worse after charges were
withdrawn against police officers who beat up a journalist in May. In Poland,
the authorities refuse to decriminalize press offences and the courts often
pass suspended prison sentences on journalists. Ever since Lech Kaczynski
became president in October 2005 and his brother, Jaroslaw, became prime
minister a few months later, there has been an increase in prosecutions of
news media.
    The countries of northern Europe are always the ones who behave best. The
exception is Netherlands (12th), which has fallen 12 places because it kept
two Telegraaf journalists in custody for two days for refusing to reveal their
sources to the judicial authorities.

    Fickleness of young democracies

    Some non-European countries have made their first appearance in the top
50. They are Mauritania (50th), which has climbed 88 places since 2004,
Uruguay (37th) and Nicaragua (47th). "We hope these improvements will be
lasting ones," Reporters Without Borders said. "Bolivia (68th) rose
dramatically last year, but that improvement unfortunately seems to have been
purely circumstantial as it has fallen many places this year because of
serious press freedom violations."
    Some countries that traditionally held a good position have also fallen
noticeably. This is the case with Benin (53rd) and Mali (52nd). Journalists
have been imprisoned in these two African countries for the first time in
several years for defamation or insulting the president. In the Americas, El
Salvador (64th) also dropped from the top 50, falling 36 places in two years.

    Government repression no longer ignores bloggers

    The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press
freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of
serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.
    In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th),
for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made
inaccessible. "We are concerned about the increase in cases of online
censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "More and more governments have
realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and
they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of
repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as
forcefully as journalists in the traditional media."
    At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what
they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of
repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being
held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years
in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist
control of the country's universities.

    War and peace

    War is largely responsible for the low position assigned to some
countries. The increase in fighting in Somalia (159th) and Sri Lanka (156th)
has made it very hard for journalists to work. Several have been killed and
censorship has been stepped up as clashes became frequent. The belligerents
refuse to recognise journalists' rights and accuse them of supporting the
other side.
    The battle raging between Hamas and Fatah is the main cause of the large
number of serious press freedom violations in the Palestinian Territories
(158th). Hostage-taking, arrests, physical attacks and ransacking of news
organisations - the Palestinian media and the few visiting journalist are
threatened from all sides.
    As predicted last year, Nepal (137th) has jumped more than 20 places in
the ranking. The end of the war and the return to democratic rule resulted in
an immediate recovery of basic freedoms and created new space for the media.

    Reporters Without Borders compiled this index by sending a questionnaire
to the 15 freedom of expression organisations throughout the world that are
its partners, to its network of 130 correspondents, and to journalists,
researchers, jurists and human rights activists. It contained 50 questions
about press freedom in their countries. The index covers 169 nations. Other
countries were not included because of lack of data.

    If you would like to receive the 2007 Index , please contact Hélène
Fargues by email at rsfcanada3@rsf.org.




For further information:

For further information: Emily Jacquard, Directrice générale, Reporters
Without Borders, (514) 521-4111, Cell: (514) 258-4208, Fax: (514) 521-7771,
rsfcanada@rsf.org

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