Press freedoms worsen, new index report says

Rwanda, Yemen and Syria have joined Burma, North Korea and Eritrea in the group of the world’s worst abusers of the media, according to Reporter’s Without Borders 2010 Press Freedom Index.

Reporters Without Borders says press freedom is getting worse in the 10 countries at the bottom of its index. It says it is becoming hard to tell which country has the most problems, because all are persecuting the media and blocking news and information to their citizens.

Rwanda is cited as one of the 10 worst offenders, according to the report. The research director at the media watchdog, Gilles Lordet, says Rwanda’s government cracked down on the media earlier this year during the country’s election.

“We had a journalist who had been killed this year. Several journalists have been put in jail,” said Lordet. “Newspapers and Internet sites have been closed and journalists have been forced to flee the country to take shelter in neighboring countries. And we see that it was directly orchestrated by the president, Paul Kagame.”

Rwanda’s government has repeatedly denied allegations it abuses press freedom. The government says it is important for security in the country that the media is not free to incite violence.

China is also on the list. The report calls for the Chinese government to free Liu Xiaobo, a human-rights campaigner who just won the Nobel Peace Prize and is imprisoned in China.

But Lordet says in one respect the situation in China is not as bad as the other countries at the bottom of the index.

“We are seeing more and more mobilization of bloggers, people active on the internet,” added Lordet. “The journalists and people who work for information on the Internet start to be very, very active.”

Asia’s four Communist countries come in the bottom 15 of the report’s list: North Korea comes in second to last, after Eritrea.

Lordet says another Horn of Africa country, Somalia, is among the 20 worst offenders.

“I think about Somalia, about the press and about the journalists in Somalia, we are a bit desperate because it is a war and it is a very chaotic war,” said Lordet. “There is a very, very big problem of protection of journalists and I would say that for the time being it seems impossible to solve.”

The Reporters Without Borders’ Press Freedom Index was first published in 2002. It ranks 178 countries. Six northern European countries – Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland – have topped the index since it was created in 2002. This year, for the first time, Cuba did not come in the lowest 10.

Costa Rica was in 29th place, up slightly from last year.

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