Journalism is completely or partly blocked or seriously impeded in 73 of the 180 countries and constrained in 59 others which together represent 73% of the countries ranked by Reporters Without Border’s annual report World Press Freedom. The organization says this reflects a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage.
“The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. Will this access be restored when the pandemic is over? The data shows that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.”
The organization notes that the 2021 Edelman Trust barometer “reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false.”
“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”
Norway is ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year.
“This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries (7%) can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries (8%) last year. The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (down 2 at 13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers during protests against pandemic restrictions.”
The press freedom situation in Germany is still classified as “fairly good,” as is the case in the United States (down 1 at 44th), despite the fact that Donald Trump’s final year in the White House was marked by a record number of assaults against journalists (around 400) and arrests of members of the media (130), according to the US Press Freedom Tracker, of which RSF is a partner.
Europe and the Americas (North, Central and South) continue to be the most favourable continents for press freedom, even though the Americas registered the biggest deterioration in its regional violations score (up 2.5%), according to the report.
“Europe registered a sizeable deterioration in its “Abuses” indicator, with acts of violence more than doubling in the European Union and Balkans, compared with a 17% deterioration worldwide. Attacks against journalists and arbitrary arrests increased in Germany (13th), France (34th), Italy (41st), Poland (down 2 at 64th), Greece (down 5 at 70th), Serbia (93rd) and Bulgaria (down 1 at 112th).”
The Eastern Europe and Central Asia (EECA) region held its second-to-last position in the regional rankings, in part because of events in Belarus (down 5 at 158th), where journalists were subjected to crackdowns in an attempt to cover up the massive street protests in response to the contested presidential election result.
Although there was less deterioration in Africa’s “Abuses” score, it continues to be the most violent continent for journalists, and the Covid-19 pandemic fueled the use of force to prevent journalists from working, the organization said.
“In the Asia/Pacific region, the “censorship virus” spread beyond China, in particular to Hong Kong (80th), where the National security law imposed by Beijing seriously threatens journalists.”
There has been no significant change in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region, which maintained last place in the regional rankings, the organization said.