On October 20 “Reporters without Borders” (RSF) international organization released its fourth annual World Press Freedom Index. The study was conducted in 167 countries of the world and based on events between September 1, 2004 to September 1, 2005. RSF Index was compiled by surveying 14 partner organizations and 130 correspondents of RSF, as well as journalists, researchers, lawyers and human rights activists. The respondents were assessing the press freedom in each country with a questionnaire compiled by RSF and including 50 criteria: ranging from various forms of pressure on journalists and media to legislative restrictions, the behavior of authorities towards the state-owned media and foreign press. Obstacles to the free flow of information on the Internet were also taken into account.
The ranking of RSF, similarly to the previous research (see YPC Weekly Newsletter, October 22-28, 2004), has North Korea (167th rank) at the bottom. It is closely followed by Eritrea (166th) and Turkmenistan (165th). These three countries, in the opinion of RSF, are “‘black holes’ for news, where the privately owned media is not allowed and freedom of expression does not exist”.
In the countries of Middle East, Eastern and Central Asia (besides Turkmenistan, of the former USSR countries this includes Uzbekistan – 155-156 ranks, and Kazakhstan – 119th rank), "journalists have the toughest time and government repression or armed groups prevent the media operating freely". Thus, during the year the situation in Iraq (157th rank) deteriorated further in terms of safety of journalists. This year at least 24 journalists and media assistant were killed and since the fighting began in March 2003 their number made 72, making the Iraqi conflict “the most deadly for the media since the World War II”.
More and more African and Latin American countries, RSF believes, get very good rankings (thus, Benin and Namibia shared 25-26th ranks, El Salvador and Cape Verde – 28th and 29th ranks respectively).
The freest countries are still Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland, taking the top lines in the RSF Index, similarly to the last year research. Slovakia (8), previously a part of the leading group, has gone somewhat down. At the same time RSF marks a retreat among western democracies. Thus, the fall of the USA (44) by over 20 places occurred “mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources”. While the first ten rankings in the Index were taken by EU member countries, some of the states of European Community went down due to infringements of freedom of expression. The situation in France (30) deteriorated, in particular, due to searches of media offices and interrogations of journalists. In countries getting ready to join EU, such as Bulgaria (48), Croatia (56) and Romania (70), the freedom of press still experiences certain problems.
Turkey, on the contrary, improved its position significantly, rising from 113th rank in the previous study to 98th this year. The progress, in the opinion of RSF, is related to the smaller number of violating the rights of journalists, although in June 2005 Turkey passed a new Penal Code, severely criticized by media representatives.
Among other post-Soviet countries the situation of press freedom is still most favorable in Estonia (11), Latvia (16-17) and Lithuania (21-22). The Baltic countries, with a big gap, are followed by Moldova (74-75), Georgia (99), Armenia (102-105), Kyrgyzstan (111), Ukraine (112), Tajikistan (113-114), Russia (138), Azerbaijan (141), Belarus (152).
Similarly to the previous researches of RSF, this one either did not explain what factors affected the jumps in Armenia’s ranking in positive or negative direction: from 90th rank in 2003 our country went up to 83rd in 2004 and went back to 102nd in 2005. Out of South Caucasus countries attention was paid only to the continuing worsening of the situation in Azerbaijan. "The murder of independent journalist Elmar Husseynov in March illustrated the violence and harassment journalists are exposed to there. Attacks on press freedom are increasing in the run-up to parliamentary elections on November 6 ", the study of “Reporters without Borders” says.