On October 20 the international organization “Reporters Without Borders” (RSF) published the second world press freedom ranking. Unlike the first similar study (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, March 15-21, 2003), covering 139 states, this time the geography was expanded: in the 166-line list indices of 164 counties are listed, included all the post-Soviet ones. Besides, two states – the USA and Israel – were given a special approach. They appear in the ranking list twice: on the one hand, the situation directly in the USA and Israel was considered, on the other – that beyond the borders of these countries. While USA and Israel are ranked in 31st and 44th positions, respectively, as regards respect for freedom of expression on their own territory, they fall to the 135th and 146th positions as regards behavior of the USA in Iraq and of Israel in occupied Arab territories. "The Israeli army’s repeated abuses against journalists in the occupied territories and the US army’s responsibility in the death of several reporters during the war in Iraq constitute unacceptable behavior by two nations that never stop stressing their commitment to freedom of expression”, the “Reporters Without Borders” stress.
The example of media freedom can be set by Finland, taking the first line in the RSF ranking. Its antipode is the North Corea, ranked 166. Second from the last is Cuba, called by the “RSF” “the world’s biggest prison for journalists”.
At the same time, wealth and press freedom do not always go together. As in 2002, the ranking shows that a country’s respect for press freedom is not solely linked to its economic development. The top 50 include countries that are among the poorest in the world, such as Benin (29th position), Timor-Leste (30th) and Madagascar (46th). Conversely, the 50 countries that respect press freedom least include such rich nations as Bahrain (117th) and Singapore (144th).
Of the former Soviet Union countries the press freedom situation is most favorable in Latvia (ranked 11), Estonia (12) and Lithuania (18). The Baltic States are followed, at a huge distance, by Georgia (73), Armenia (90) and Moldova (94). Kyrgyzstan, Azerbaijan and Tajikistan are ranked 104, 113 and 114, respectively. Thus, among the three countries of South Caucasus Armenia is almost in the middle: the freedom of Armenian media is 17 points less than that of Georgian media and 23 points greater than that of Azerbaijani ones.
The 133 place in the ranking is taken by Ukraine, the 138 rank belongs to Kazakhstan, while the list of CIS counties is concluded by Russia (148), Belarus (151), Uzbekistan (154) and Turkmenistan (158). While the ranking authors make a reservation that “a truly independent press exists in Russia”, this low assessment of the country is explained by "the censorship of anything to do with the war in Chechnya, several murders and the recent abduction of the Agence France-Presse correspondent in Ingushetia”: “Russia continues to be one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists.”
The RSF ranking takes account of press freedom events between September 1, 2002 and September 1, 2003. Similarly to the last year, the ranking was compiled by surveying people, “who have a deep knowledge of the state of press freedom in a country or a number of countries: local journalists or foreign reporters based in a country, researchers, jurists, regional specialists and the researchers working for Reporters Without Borders’ International Secretariat”. The press freedom in each country was assessed by the respondents with a questionnaire with 53 criteria: ranging from various forms of repression of journalists and media up to legal restrictions, as well as the attitude of the authorities to state-owned media and international press. It also took account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet.