A free press always has a positive influence on the economy and on governance, according to findings in a UNESCO report. It expands participation in political decision making beyond a small inner circle, holds government accountable, and makes their actions transparent.
It was a horrible year in 2014 for freedom of information with deterioration of press freedom worldwide, and 2015 is shaping up to be worse.
The 2015 World Press Freedom Index, produced by Reporters Without Borders, ranked the performance of 180 countries according media independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, pluralism, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.
Influences such as censorship, armed conflict, surveillance and national security were taken into account.
Here are some of the findings by Reporters Without Borders:
– More countries are using prohibitions on blasphemy and sacrilege to censor political criticism.
– 2014 saw increased violence against news providers covering protests.
– Governments most often cite security as the grounds for trampling on fundamental freedoms and gagging the media.
– Many governments and non-state players used control and manipulation of media coverage as a weapon of war in 2014.
– Journalists faced violent threats from non-state groups in 2014. The world’s most repressive countries found ways to reinforce and improve methods of censorship and repression.
Finland has ranked No. 1 on the index out of 180 countries for five years in a row, followed by Norway and Denmark. At the other end of the scale, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea performed worst.
France ranked No. 38 (moving up one place), while the U. S. ranked 49th (down three places). Russia went down four places to No. 152. China, at 176th place, went down one place. Japan ranked 61st (down two places), Brazil ranked 99th (up 12 places), and Iran, at 173rd place, remained unchanged.
In the Americas, the U.S. is down three places and continues to decline. Contributing to this decline in 2014 was the Obama administration’s war on information in Wikileaks, and New York Times journalist James Risen coming under government pressure to reveal his sources, according to Reporters Without Borders
Wars, violence during demonstrations, economic crises, the growing threat from non-state operatives — all resulted in media freedom declining on all five continents.
The indicators compiled by Reporters Without Borders show that two thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed worse in 2014 than in 2013. Violations of freedom of information in 180 countries increased 8 percent in 2014 to 3,719 violations, and almost 10 percent compared with 2013, according to the annual global indicator.
The following 12 African countries score highest for freedom of press. They are listed below with their ranking out of 180 countries, and with their overall score. This list shows African countries starting with lowest scores for press freedom and ending with highest.
The score alongside each country reflects the level intimidation experienced by journalists, media representatives and those focused on information exchange. With an overall score of 7.52, Finland ranked highest for freedom of press. With an overall score of 84.86, Eritrea ranked lowest for press freedom.
This article first appeared Feb. 19, 2015.
Namibia had sub-Saharan Africa’s highest ranking, according to Reporters Without Border. In its index, the organization said, “Although media offences have yet to be decriminalized, the constitution guarantees media freedom and there is a significant degree of pluralism, with five daily newspaper, five weeklies, 12 monthlies, more than 20 commercial or community radio stations and three TV stations for a population of just 2 million. Although the state-owned media are not very critical, their editorial policies are not subject to any political interference.”