31 January 2012
 
Last week Reporters without Borders published its tenth annual World Press Freedom Index. In compiling the 2011-12 index, the constraints on the media in 179 countries were evaluated. Unlike many other indices, the assessment methodology does not form part of the published report.
 
As in previous years the leading countries are those recognised for their commitment to good government – having a respect for democratic principles, a focus on the rule of law and a concern for public integrity. Finland and Norway share the top place. The Netherlands (and surprisingly, Estonia) are next equal. New Zealand slipped to 13th, dropping 5 places since the 2010-11 index.
 
Countries in the top 20 places are rated as in a “good situation”, with the next 30 countries in a “satisfactory situation”.  Notable compared with the previous index are the dramatic improvements of Cape Verde (9th) and Namibia (20th). Most marked is Niger now ranked 29th (up 75 places) after a renewed government emphasis on openness.
 
The top 15 places are:
 
Finland
Norway
Estonia
Netherlands
Austria
Iceland
Luxembourg
Switzerland
Cape Verde
Canada
Denmark
Sweden
New Zealand
Czech Republic
Ireland
 
The United Kingdom is in 28th place, Australia at 30th place, and the United States, at 47th, just falls within the satisfactory situation grade. The compilers appear sensitive to the reaction by governments to abuse by the media of the rights of others. For example, potential responses to the Wikileaks saga and that at News International – first at News of the World and now at the Sun – seem to have influenced index calculations.
 
Reporters without Borders note that the results have a correlation with a respect for basic freedoms. “This serves as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom.”  That freedom comes when countries enforce access to information laws and ensure the traction of policies they have for open government.
 
It is interesting to compare the latest Freedom House Freedom of the Press survey.  That has a much more US sympathetic analysis.  The top 25, rated as having a “free” press are:
 
Finland
Norway
Sweden
Iceland
Luxembourg
Belgium
Denmark
Switzerland
Andorra
Netherlands
Lichenstein
Palau
New Zealand (13th)
Monaco
United States (15th=)
Marshall Islands
Germany
San Marino
St Vincent
Portugal
Estonia
Costa Rica
United Kingdom
Canada
 Australia (25th)
 
 
 
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