The coronavirus pandemic is amplifying threats to press freedom worldwide, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said on Tuesday in its annual World Press Freedom Index. The 180-country index notes a correlation between a country’s ranking and its response to the pandemic.
Secretary-general of RSF, Christophe Deloire said that ‘‘the coronavirus epidemic provides an illustration of the negative factors for the right to reliable information, and it is even a multiplier.’’
The watchdog noted a correlation between the suppression of press freedom during the coronavirus epidemic and each country’s ranking in the index, pointing to the examples of China at 177 and Iran, which dropped three places to 173, censored their coronavirus outbreaks.
In Iraq, which dropped by six to 162, the government stripped the Reuters news agency of its licence for three months after it published a story questioning official coronavirus figures.
Europe remains the continent most favorable to press freedom, RSF showed, with Norway topping the index for the fourth consecutive year and Finland maintaining its second position. Denmark ranked third, followed by Sweden and the Netherlands.
The index, that assesses the situation of journalism in 180 countries and territories each year, noted that the next ten years would be ‘‘a decisive decade’’ for the freedom of media due to a number of global crises.
In addition to the geopolitical, technological, democratic, confidence and economic crisis already affecting the future of journalism, the health crisis arising from the COVID-19 pandemic is further threatening the right to ‘‘free, independent, pluralistic and reliable information,’’ the report showed.
“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious ‘shock doctrine,'” Deloire said.
Leaders could “take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Deloirecontinued.
Hungary dropped two places to 89th as the country’s Prime Minister Viktor Orban passed a “coronavirus” law that provides for penalties of up to five years in prison for the dissemination of false information.
Meanwhile Turkey, where President RecepTayyip Erdogan has been repeatedly criticised for stamping on media freedom, rose three places to 154th, something that was however attributed to the drop of other countries.
Bulgaria appeared to have the lowest standards of press freedom in Europe, ranking 111th globally.
At the same time, North Korea took the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea remained the lowest-ranked African country.
According to the report, the two countries that posted the two best progressions in this year’s index were Malaysia in 101st and Maldives in 79th position, gaining 22 and 19 places respectively. Sudan followed at 159 by gaining 16 places since the fall of Omar el-Béchir.
The Middle East and North Africa region remain the most dangerous regions for journalists to practice their profession, RSF noted. (Source: BBC)