[JURIST] The United States has gained ground as a country protecting press freedom, according to the sixth annual Worldwide Index of Freedom [press release] issued Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders (RWB) [advocacy website]. RWB listed Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan at the bottom of the survey, while Iceland and Norway tied for first. The US moved up the list to rank 48 out of 169 countries, after being ranked 53rd last year [JURIST report]. The US had started out at the 17th spot in 2002, the first year of the Index's publication. RWB said of the US and other G8 countries' 2007 rankings:
After falling steadily in the index for the past three years, the G8 members have recovered a few places. France (31st), for example, has climbed six places in the past year. French journalists were spared the violence that affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during the demonstrations in the city suburbs. But many concerns remain about repeated censorship, searches of news organizations, and a lack of guarantees for the confidentiality of journalists' sources.
There were slightly fewer press freedom violations in the United States (48th) and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison. But the detention of Al-Jazeera's Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since 13 June 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group.
Noting that bloggers are threatened just as much as traditional journalists, especially in countries that habitually limit freedom of press, RWB said:
The Internet is occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations. Several countries fell in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.
In Malaysia (124th), Thailand (135th), Vietnam (162nd) and Egypt (146th), for example, bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible. "We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship," Reporters Without Borders said. "More and more governments have realized that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media."
At least 64 persons are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticizing the president and Islamist control of the country's universities.
Reporters Without Borders compiles the Index of Freedom by asking 15 of its partners worldwide, its network of 130 correspondents and researchers, jurists and human rights activists to answer 50 questions [questionnaire] about press freedom in their respective countries. Reliable results were received for 169 nations and were then compiled [RWB backgrounder] based on "the degree of freedom that journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom." AP has more.