Growth in fake content, animosity towards journalists and increased aggressiveness from authorities in many countries explain the precarious situation for media freedom, according to Reporters Without Borders (RSF) that on May 3 – World Press Freedom Day – published its annual World Press Freedom Index. The environment for journalism is “bad” in seven out of ten countries, and satisfactory in only three out of ten, the index shows.
The situation is “very serious” in 31 countries, “difficult” in 42, “problematic” in 55, and “good” or “satisfactory” in 52 countries. Norway is ranked first for the seventh year running. But – unusually – a non-Nordic country is ranked second, namely Ireland (up 4 places at 2nd), ahead of Denmark.
“There are changes at the bottom of the Index, too. The last three places are occupied solely by Asian countries: Vietnam (178th), which has almost completed its hunt of independent reporters and commentators; China (down 4 at 179th), the world’s biggest jailer of journalists and one of the biggest exporters of propaganda content; and, to no great surprise, North Korea (180th)!, the RSF report says.
“The 2023 Index spotlights the rapid effects that the digital ecosystem’s fake content industry has had on press freedom. In 118 countries (two-thirds of the 180 countries evaluated by the Index), most of the Index questionnaire’s respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns.”
“The difference is being blurred between true and false, real and artificial, facts and artifices, jeopardising the right to information. The unprecedented ability to tamper with content is being used to undermine those who embody quality journalism and weaken journalism itself.”
“The remarkable development of artificial intelligence is wreaking further havoc on the media world, which had already been undermined by Web 2.0. Meanwhile, Twitter owner Elon Musk is pushing an arbitrary, payment-based approach to information to the extreme, showing that platforms are quicksand for journalism.”
“The disinformation industry disseminates manipulative content on a huge scale, as shown by an investigation by the Forbidden Stories consortium, a project co-founded by RSF. And now AI is digesting content and regurgitating it in the form of syntheses that flout the principles of rigour and reliability.”
“The terrain has been favourable for an increase in propaganda by Russia (164th), which has fallen another nine places in the 2023 Index. In record time, Moscow has established a new media arsenal dedicated to spreading the Kremlin’s message in the occupied territories in southern Ukraine, while cracking down harder than ever on the last remaining independent Russian media outlets, which have been banned, blocked and/or declared “foreign agents”. Russia’s war crimes in Ukraine (79th) helped give this country one of the Index’s worst scores for security”. The RSF report says.
The United States (45th) has fallen three places. The Index questionnaire’s US respondents were negative about the environment for journalists (especially the legal framework at the local level, and widespread violence) despite the Biden administration’s efforts.
Most journalists in the United States are concerned about the future of press freedoms in the country, according to a Pew Research Center survey of nearly 12,000 working U.S.-based journalists. 57% say they are extremely or very concerned about potential restrictions on press freedoms in the country, including a third of journalists who say they are extremely concerned. Another 23% are somewhat concerned. Just one-in-five have low levels of concern about the future of press freedoms domestically.
Europe, especially the European Union, is the region of the world where it is easiest for journalists to work, but the situation is mixed even there.
Germany (21st), where a record number of cases of violence against journalists and arrests have been recorded, has fallen five places. Poland (57th), where 2022 was relatively calm from a press freedom viewpoint, has risen nine places, while France (24th) has risen two. Greece (107th), where journalists were spied on by the intelligence services and by powerful spyware, continues to have the EU’s lowest ranking.
The report says that the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) continues to be the world’s most dangerous region for journalists, with a situation classified as “very bad” in more than half of its countries. The very low score of some countries, including Syria (175th), Yemen (168th) and Iraq (167th), is due in particular to the large number of journalists who are missing or held hostage.
“Although Palestine (156th) has risen 14 places, its security indicator is very low after two more journalists were killed in 2022. Saudi Arabia remains rooted near the bottom of the Index. In the Maghreb, media owner Ihsane El Kadi’s imprisonment has confirmed the growing authoritarianism in Algeria (136th), which has fallen two places and where the situation continues to be classified as “bad”.”