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rbc.ru, September 10, 2003

Press freedom list: Russia ranked 121st out of 139

Reporters Without Frontiers has published the first worldwide press freedom index. According to the organization's analysts, it has some surprises for Western democracies. The list includes 139 countries. North Korea is at the bottom of the list, as the country with least press freedom, and China is ranked 138th. The United States, which always boasts about its democratic traditions, ranks 17th.

The top five countries include Finland, Iceland, Norway, the Netherlands and Canada. Germany is seventh, right after the Ireland. Portugal and Sweden are ranked 8th and 9th, respectively. And Denmark is 10th.

France ranks 11th, Switzerland is in 16th place, and Great Britain is 22nd. Russia was ranked 121st. Ukraine is in 112th place, and Turkmenistan is 136th, among the bottom-ranked countries.

The fact that United States ranks below Costa Rica and Italy scores lower than Benin, came as a surprise, notes the press release of the organization. According to the experts, it shows that freedom is under attack everywhere, with the 20 bottom-ranked countries drawn from Asia, Africa, Latin America and Europe. The situation in especially bad in Asia, which contains the five worst offenders - North Korea, China, Burma, Turkmenistan and Bhutan.

The report also concludes that press freedom does not just depend on a country's material prosperity. Costa Rica, ranked 15th and Benin, 21st on the list, are good examples. The index was drawn up by asking journalists, researchers and legal experts to answer 50 questions about a whole range of press freedom violations, including murders or arrests of journalists, censorship, pressure, state monopolies in various fields, punishment of press law offences and regulation of the media. Countries were not included, if no reliable information could be obtained.

In the worst-ranked countries, press freedom is a dead letter and independent newspapers do not exist, according to Reporters Without Frontiers. Only one voice is heard: that of a media that is tightly-controlled or monitored by the government. The very few independent journalists are constantly harassed, imprisoned or forced into exile by the authorities. The foreign media in such countries is banned or allowed in very small doses, but is always closely monitored.

According to the experts of the organization, the poor ranking of the United States is attributable primarily to the number of journalists arrested or imprisoned there. Arrests are often made in response to the refusal of the journalists to reveal their sources in court. Furthermore, since the 11 September attacks, several journalists have been arrested for crossing security lines at official buildings.

The countries of the European Union all score well except for Italy, ranked 40th, where news diversity is under serious threat. Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi is turning up the pressure on the state-owned television stations, has named his henchmen to help run them and continues to combine his job as head of government with that of head of a privately-owned media group, states the press release.

Elsewhere in Europe, outside the European Union, it is still difficult to work as a journalist: several have been murdered or imprisoned in the countries of the former Soviet bloc. In particular, the organization's experts point to the case of Grigory Pasko, jailed since December 2001 in the Vladivostok region of Russia. He was given a four-year sentence for publishing pictures of the Russian Navy pouring radioactive liquid waste into the Sea of Japan. Slovenia ranked top among the former Soviet block countries - 14th. Hungary was ranked 25th, Poland - 28th, Croatia - 33rd, Bulgaria - 38th, Czech Republic - 41st, Bosnia - 43rd, Romania - 45th, and Serbia and Montenegro - 40th. Among the former Soviet republics, Tajikistan was given the best ranking: 86th. Kyrgyzstan is 98th, Azerbajian - 101st, Kazakhstan - 116th, and Uzbekistan 120th.

Interestingly, there are no Arab countries in the top 50, the agency notes. Among Arab countries, Lebanon got the highest ranking: it is 56th. The Palestinian National Authority is 82, and Israel is 92nd.

Reporters Without Frontiers defends journalists and other media contributors and professionals who have been imprisoned or persecuted for doing their work, in accordance with Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. It has nine national branches in Germany, Austria, Belgium, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, Italy, Sweden and Switzerland. The organization also has offices in Abidjan, Bangkok, Buenos Aires, Istanbul, Montreal, Nairobi, New York, Tokyo and Washington. Reporters Without Frontiers has over 100 correspondents all over the world.


See also:

Freedom of Speech and Media Law in Russia

rbc.ru, September 10, 2003

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