The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which Reporters Without Borders (RSF) published on 20 April, 2016, shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.
Most of the movement in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index is indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by governments and private-sector interests.
The 2016 World Press Freedom Index reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the past year.
Ever since the 2013 index, Reporters Without Borders has been calculating indicators of the overall level of media freedom violations in each of the world’s regions and worldwide. The higher the figure, the worse the situation.
The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year, a 3.71% deterioration. The decline since 2013 is 13.6%.
Seen as a benchmark throughout the world, the Index ranks 180 countries according to the freedom allowed journalists. It also includes indicators of the level of media freedom violations in each region. These show that Europe (with 19.8 points) still has the freest media, followed distantly by Africa (36.9), which for the first time overtook the Americas (37.1), a region where violence against journalists is on the rise. Asia (43.8) and Eastern Europe/Central Asia (48.4) follow, while North Africa/Middle East (50.8) is still the region where journalists are most subjected to constraints of every kind.
The Central Asia/Eastern Europe region’s already bad score deteriorated by 5% as a result of the increasingly glacial environment for media freedom and free speech in countries with authoritarian regimes.
Europe threatened by demons, its own and the world’s
The past year seems to have confirmed the trend seen in the 2015 Index – progressive erosion of the European model. Counter-espionage and counter-terrorist measures were misused. Laws were passed allowing mass surveillance. Conflicts of interest increased. Authorities tightened their grip on state media and sometimes privately-owned media as well. All in all, the continent that respects media freedom most seemed to be on a downhill course.
Poland (47th, down 29) fell spectacularly in the 2016 index as a result of the government’s declared aim of restoring foreign-owned Polish media to Polish ownership and a law, enacted in early 2016, allowing the government to hire and fire those who run Poland’s public radio and television. In Hungary (67th), the government controlled a Media Council tasked with ensuring respect for “public decency” and “human dignity” as well as defining them.
Media ownership by conglomerates with a wide range of business interests has long posed a threat to journalistic independence, but the threat is growing and is endangering the European model. This is the case in France (45th), where most of the private-sector national media are now owned by a handful of businessmen with interests in areas of the economy unrelated to the media. In Bulgaria (113th, down 7), which has the European Union’s lowest ranking, politicians and interest groups control most of the media. In Macedonia (118th), selective allocation of state advertising was used to control and gag the media.
In the United Kingdom (38th, down 4), the police used the Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) to violate the confidentiality of journalists’ sources, while the number of police raids with the same objective increased in Italy (7th, down 4), a country where threats from the mafia are also frequent. Southeastern Europe was not spared. Physical violence was reported in Croatia (65th, down 5) and Serbia (59th), where journalists were taken hostage or were the targets of petrol bombs.
Some of the threats to journalists were directly linked to rising nationalism, such as the death threats in Sweden (8th, down 3) and the physical attacks during anti-Muslim demonstrations in Germany (16th, down 4). And finally, it was in Paris that the attack on Charlie Hebdo took place on 7 January 2015, an attack masterminded from Yemen. So, Europe was also the victim of the world’s demons.
What does the Index measure?
The Index is based on an evaluation of media freedom that measures pluralism, media independence, the quality of the legal framework and the safety of journalists in 180 countries. It is compiled by means of a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts all over the world. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
The Index is not an indicator of the quality of journalism in each country, nor does it rank public policies, even if governments obviously have a major impact on their country’s ranking.