Reporters Without Borders has just published their Press Freedom Index for 2013, with a brief review and ratings of conditions for journalists in 179 countries around the world. While some African countries rank at the bottom of the list (notably Somalia at 175 and Eritrea at 179), other African countries fall in the middle or even close to the top. Namibia (19) ranks above Canada (20). Cape Verde (25) ranks above Australia (26), and Ghana (30) above the United States (32).
While I am skeptical of how precise any such quantitative ranking can be, Reporters Without Borders is very explicit about its methodology and has a well-established mechanism for regular collection of data. Their index takes into account not only obvious data such as journalists killed or imprisoned, but also factors such as the level of openness for alternative views in the media.
The full report is available at http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html
This AfricaFocus Bulletin includes the sections on "Africa" (sub-Saharan) and "Middle East and North Africa," the full list of rankings for 179 countries, a shorter list with only African countries and selected others for convenient comparison, and an excerpt from the report on its methodology.
2013 World Press Freedom Index
Reporters Without Borders
Reporters Without Borders promotes and defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world. Based in Paris, it has ten international offices and more than 150 correspondents in all five continents.
East Africa stagnates near bottom of the index, Mali nosedives
East Africa: journalists' graveyard
In Somalia (175th, -11) 18 journalists were killed, caught up in bomb attacks or the direct targets of murder, making 2012 the deadliest in history for the country's media. The Horn of Africa state was the second most dangerous country in the world for those working in news and information, behind Syria.
In Eritrea (in last place in the index for the sixth successive year), no journalists were killed but some were left to die, which amounts to the same thing. With at least 30 behind bars, it is Africa's biggest prison for journalists. Of 11 incarcerated since 2001, 7 have died as a result of prison conditions or have killed themselves. Since the independent media were abolished more than 10 years ago, there are no independent Eritrean news outlets, other than outside the country, and terror prevails.
East Africa is also a region of censorship and crackdowns. Omar al-Bashir's Sudan, where more newspapers were seized and the arrests of journalists continued during the summer, is stuck firmly in 170th place, in the bottom 10 of the index.
Djibouti (167th, -8), which also has no independent media, detained a correspondent of the foreign-based news site La Voix de Djibouti. Despite the release of two Swedish journalists arrested in 2011, Ethiopia (137th) fell ten places because of its repressive application of the 2009 anti-terrorist law and the continued detention of several local journalists.
Political unrest in Mali and the Central African Republic
Mali (99th, -74), which was long presented as the continent's star performer in democracy and press freedom, was prey to the political events that overtook it during the year.
The military coup in Bamako on 22 March and the seizure of the north of the country by Touareg separatists and Islamic fundamentalists exposed news organizations to censorship and abuses. Many northern radio stations stopped broadcasting, while in the capital several Malian and foreign journalists were assaulted. All these occurred before the external military intervention in January 2013.
The Central African Republic was ranked 65th in 2012. Events after the outbreak of the Seleka rebellion at the very end of the year (radio stations ransacked, one journalist killed) were not taken into consideration in this index, thus preventing the country from falling more than 50 places.
These will be included in the 2014 version. In Guinea-Bissau (92nd, -17) a media blackout and military censorship that followed the coup on 12 April explain that country's drop.
Africa's predatory censors
Yahya Jammeh, King Mswati III, Paul Kagame, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema, together with other heads of state such as Issaias Afeworki (Eritrea) and Ismael Omar Guelleh (Djibouti) are members of an exclusive club of authoritarian African leaders, some eccentric others stern, who hold their countries in an iron grasp and keep a firm grip on news and information.
Their countries, respectively Gambia (152nd), Swaziland (155th), Rwanda (161st) and Equatorial Guinea (166th), are all among the bottom 30 in the index. Media pluralism has been whittled away and criticism of the head of state discouraged.
The biggest losses Chad, which fell 18 places to 121st, saw journalists harassed and roughed up, the publication of the newspaper N'Djamena Bi-Hebdo temporarily halted and its publisher sentenced to a suspended prison term, and a highly repressive bill kept under wraps.
The slow but sure progress that followed the formation of a national unity government in Zimbabwe (133rd, -16) in 2009 and the granting of publication licences to several independent newspapers appeared to have stalled.
Violence and arrests of journalists still niggle and if elections go ahead as planned in 2013, the atmosphere for the media promises to be tense. Relatively high placed in 2011-2012, South Sudan (124th) fell 12 places after the murder of a columnist - the first killing of its kind in the new country - as news organizations and journalists awaited the approval of three new laws on the media.
Despite the holding of a national media conference in Cameroon (120th, -23), the future of the sector remains both uncertain and worrying. In the upper reaches of the index, Niger (43rd) nonetheless fell 14 places as a result of the irresponsibility of a few journalists who succumbed to the temptation to abuse the freedom that they enjoyed.
Within the space of four months in Tanzania (70th, -36), one journalist was killed while he was covering a demonstration and another was found dead, a clear victim of murder. Burundi (132nd) fell only two places but remains a low position. Summonses of journalists declined but the case of Hassan Ruvakuki, given a life sentence reduced to three years on appeal, has created an atmosphere of fear among the media.
Return to normality
After a dreadful year in 2011, marked by the dictatorial behaviour of the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika, a violent crackdown on demonstrations and the murder of the blogger Robert Chasowa, Malawi (75th) recorded the biggest jump in the entire index, up 71 places, close to the position it held in 2010.
Similarly, Côte d'Ivoire rose 63 places to 96th despite persistent problems. It had plummeted in the previous index because of a postelection crisis and the murders of a journalist and another media worker, as well as the civil conflict that broke out in Abidjan in April. Uganda (104th) was up 35 places thanks to a better year, but things were far from satisfactory as far as the media were concerned. The year ended with President Yoweri Museveni making open threats to several radio stations.
For Senegal (59th, +16), 2012 was a year of hope. The presidential election took place in a peaceful atmosphere for the media, despite a few regrettable assaults on journalists, and President Macky Sall, who had declared himself willing to decriminalize press offences, took office. Much remains to be proved in 2013, as was illustrated by the prison sentence handed down on a journalist in December.
In Liberia (97th, +13), the presidential election in November 2011 had been tainted by the closure of several media outlets and attacks on journalists.
In 2012, the atmosphere improved greatly. In the summer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the second African head of state, after Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain, thereby undertaking to promote media freedom. Namibia (19th), Cape Verde (25th) and Ghana (30th) maintained their record as the highest ranked African countries.
Middle East & North Africa
2012 - Year Two of the new Arab world
"Arab spring" uprisings caused a lot of movements in the Press Freedom Index in 2011 and the situation was still very mixed in 2012, with countries where governments have fallen, countries where they still survive but are facing uprisings, and countries where, by dint of compromises and promises, they have managed to assuage the demands for change.
Syria and Bahrain at the bottom of the index
Syria is ranked 176th in the index, fourth from last. Of all the ranked countries, it is the one that saw the most attacks on freedom of information. Journalists are targeted by all the parties to the conflict -- the regular army and the various opposition factions - who are waging an information war.
Bahrain (165th) rose eight places, after limited improvement. The government crackdown continued in 2012 but was slightly less violent than the previous year, when the country plunged 29 places. In all, Bahrain has fallen 66 places in the space of four years and is now in the bottom 20.
Fertile revolutions for freedom of information?
After the fall of dictators, the promises of media pluralism and independence are not always sufficiently translated into action. Libya (131st, +23) rose more than 20 places. This jump was due to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi's 42-year regime and its positive impact on freedom of information.
Libya's ranking the year before was affected by all the violations in 2011, when Gaddafi was still clinging to power. The improvements nonetheless need to be confirmed by the inclusion of freedom of information in the constitution and the adoption of laws guaranteeing this freedom and providing real protection for journalists and safeguards for media pluralism and independence.
Two years after Ben Ali's fall, Tunisia (138th) slipped four places, after jumping more than 30 places in 2011. Why? Because there was an increase in attacks on journalists in the first quarter of 2012 and because the authorities have maintained a judicial void by delaying the implementation of decree-laws regulating the media. This allowed them to arbitrarily appoint people to run the state-owned media. Furthermore, politicians often refer to journalists and news media with contempt or even hate.
Egypt (158th) rose eight places, two years after Hosni Mubarak's departure. This was a slight improvement on 2011, when violence against media personnel caused the country to plummet 39 places from 127th. Journalists and netizens continue to be the targets of physical attacks, arrests and trials and one was fatally injured in December.
Shortly after winning elections, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed new executives and editors to run the state newspapers, which had a major impact on their editorial policies. The constitution adopted at the end of 2012 contains vaguely-worded provisions that clearly threaten freedoms. News media can still be closed or seized on the orders of a judge.
Yemen (171st, +2) continued to languish in the bottom ten. There have been no legislative changes in the year since Abd Rab Mansour Hadi took over as president. Journalists are still exposed to physical attacks, prosecution and even jail sentences. A bill on privatelyowned broadcasts and electronic media with a number of draconian provisions, which was submitted to parliament in 2012, has not been totally abandoned.
Countries "spared" by Arab springs rein in news providers
Buffeted by social and economic protests, the Sultanate of Oman (141st) sank 24 places, the biggest fall in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. Some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse-majesté or cybercrime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights. The authorities gave promises in response to demands for political, social and economic change but did not carry them out.
A repressive royal decree in September was one of the reasons why Jordan (134th, -6) fell. The decree changed the press law and drastically restricted freedom of information, especially for online media, brushing aside all the reform promises that the government gave at the height of the popular unrest in 2011. Journalists are being tried before military courts, especially when they criticize the royal family.
Algeria (125th, -3) fell a few places because journalists were the targets of both physical attacks and judicial proceedings, and because of an increase in economic pressure on independent media. More than a year after parliament passed a law that is supposed to abolish the state's broadcasting monopoly, there are still no privately-owned TV stations because a regulatory authority, an essential prior condition, has still not been created. So, for the time being, the new law is nothing but window dressing.
The ranking of Morocco (136th, +2) is stable. Media reform was announced after Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane took office in November 2011 but his government is dragging its feet on the promised changes, especially decriminalization of media offences. Decisions on such matters as the granting and withdrawal of accreditation are often arbitrary and lacking in transparency.
Palestine (146th) is still in the bottom quarter but it rose eight places. An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.
Iraq (150th) rose two places, but this followed a fall of 22 places last year. The security situation for journalists continues to be very worrying, with three killed in connection with their work in 2012 and seven killed in 2011. Journalists are constantly obstructed.
There were only slight changes in the rankings of Saudi Arabia (163rd, -5), Kuwait (77th, +1) and the United Arab Emirates (114th, -2).
Lebanon (101st) fell eight places, after its media became more polarized by neighbouring Syria's civil war. Its journalists are exposed to arbitrary detention and mistreatment.
The 20-place fall of Israel (112nd) is due to the actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the Palestinian Territories - actions that used to be given a separate ranking in the index under the label of "Israel extraterritorial".
During Operation "Pillar of Defence" in November 2012, IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem.
Relatives held hostage in Iran
Somalia's fall in the index due to the many deaths of journalists there in 2012 allowed Iran (174th) to rise one place. Its print and broadcast media and news websites are all controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards. The authorities have internationalized their repression by making hostages out of the relatives of Iranian journalists who work abroad or in Iran for foreign news media. The Islamic Republic is one of the world's five biggest prisons for news and information providers.
Press Freedom Index 2013 - Worldwide Rankings
African countries marked with *
Rank Country 1 Finland 2 Netherlands 3 Norway 4 Luxembourg 5 Andorra 6 Denmark 7 Liechtenstein 8 New Zealand 9 Iceland 10 Sweden 11 Estonia 12 Austria 13 Jamaica 14 Switzerland 15 Ireland 16 Czech Republic 17 Germany 18 Costa Rica 19 * Namibia 20 Canada 21 Belgium 22 Poland 23 Slovakia 24 Cyprus 25
* Cape Verde 26 Australia 27 Uruguay 28 Portugal 29 United Kingdom 30 * Ghana 31 Suriname 32 United States 33 Lithuania 34 OECS 35 Slovenia 36 Spain 37 France 38 El Salvador 39 Latvia 40 * Botswana 41 Papua New Guinea 42 Romania 43 * Niger 44 Trinidad and Tobago 45 Malta 46 * Burkina Faso 47 Taiwan 48 Samoa 49 Haiti 50 South Korea 51 * Comoros 52 * South Africa 53 Japan 54 Argentina 55 Moldova 56 Hungary 57 Italy 58 Hong Kong 59
* Senegal 60 Chile 61 * Sierra Leone 62 * Mauritius 63 Serbia 64 Croatia 65 * Central African Republic 66 Tonga 67 * Mauritania 68 Bosnia and Herzegovina 69 Guyana 70 * Tanzania 71 * Kenya 72 * Zambia 73 * Mozambique 74 Armenia 75 * Malawi 76 * Republic of the Congo 77 Kuwait 78 Nicaragua 79 * Benin 80 Dominican Republic 81 * Lesotho 82 Bhutan 83 * Togo 84 Greece 85 Kosovo 86 * Guinea 87 Bulgaria 88 * Madagascar 89
* Gabon 90 East Timor 91 Paraguay 92 * Guinea-Bisssau 93 * Seychelles 94 Northern Cyprus 95 Guatemala 96 * Ivory Coast 97 * Liberia 98 Mongolia 99 * Mali 100 Georgia 101 Lebanon 102 Albania 103 Maldives 104 * Uganda 105 Peru 106 Kyrgyzstan 107 Fiji 108 Brazil 109 Bolivia 110 Qatar 111 Panama 112 Israel 113 Montenegro 114 United Arab Emirates 115 * Nigeria 116 Republic of Macedonia 117 Venezuela 118 Nepal 119 Ecuador 120
* Cameroon 121 * Chad 122 Brunei 123 Tajikistan 124 * South Sudan 125 * Algeria 126 Ukraine 127 Honduras 128 Afghanistan 129 Colombia 130 * Angola 131 * Libya 132 * Burundi 133 * Zimbabwe 134 Jordan 135 Thailand 136 * Morocco 137 * Ethiopia 138 * Tunisia 139 Indonesia 140 India 141 Oman 142
* DR Congo 143 Cambodia 144 Bangladesh 145 Malaysia 146 Palestine 147 Philippines 148 Russia 149 Singapore 150 Iraq 151 Burma 152 * Gambia 153 Mexico 154 Turkey 155 * Swaziland 156 Azerbaijan 157 Belarus 158 * Egypt 159 Pakistan 160 Kazakhstan 161
* Rwanda 162 Sri Lanka 163 Saudi Arabia 164 Uzbekistan 165 Bahrain 166 * Equatorial Guinea 167 * Djibouti 168 Laos 169 Yemen 170 * Sudan 171 Cuba 172 Vietnam 173 China 174 Iran 175 * Somalia 176 Syria 177 Turkmenistan 178 North Korea 179 * Eritrea
Press Freedom Index 2013
Rankings for African Countries and Selected Comparisons
African countries marked with *
Rank Country 1 Finland 18 Costa Rica 19 * Namibia 20 Canada 25 * Cape Verde 26 Australia 29 United Kingdom 30 * Ghana 32 United States 40 * Botswana 43 * Niger 46 * Burkina Faso 51
* Comoros 52 * South Africa 53 Japan 59 * Senegal 61 * Sierra Leone 62 * Mauritius 65 * Central African Republic 67 * Mauritania 70 * Tanzania 71 * Kenya 72 * Zambia 73 * Mozambique 75 * Malawi 76 * Republic of the Congo 79 * Benin 81 * Lesotho 83 * Togo 86 * Guinea 88 * Madagascar 89 * Gabon 92 *
Guinea-Bisssau 93 * Seychelles 96 * Ivory Coast 97 * Liberia 99 * Mali 104 * Uganda 108 Brazil 115 * Nigeria 120 * Cameroon 121 * Chad 124 * South Sudan 125 * Algeria 130 * Angola 131 * Libya 132 * Burundi 133 * Zimbabwe 136 * Morocco 137 * Ethiopia 138 * Tunisia 140 India 142 * DR Congo 148 Russia 152
* Gambia 153 Mexico 154 Turkey 155 * Swaziland 158 * Egypt 161 * Rwanda 166 * Equatorial Guinea 167 * Djibouti 168 Laos 169 Yemen 170 * Sudan 171 Cuba 172 Vietnam 173 China 174 Iran 175 * Somalia 176 Syria 177 Turkmenistan 178 North Korea 179 * Eritrea
How We Compiled the Press Freedom Index
The press freedom index that Reporters Without Borders publishes every year measures the level of freedom of information in nearly 180 countries. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations and netizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.
It is based partly on a questionnaire that is sent to our partner organizations (18 freedom of expression NGOs located in all five continents), to our network of 150 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
The 179 countries ranked in this year's index are those for which Reporters Without Borders received completed questionnaires from various sources.
Some countries were not included because of a lack of reliable, confirmed data. This year, there has been a major change in the method used to compile the index, including the use of a new questionnaire. Quantitative questions about the number of violations of different kinds are now handled by our staff.
They include the number of journalists, media assistants and netizens who were jailed or killed in the connection with their activities, the number of journalists abducted, the number that fled into exile, the number of physical attacks and arrests, and the number of media censored.
In the event of a military occupation of one or more territories, any violations by representatives of the occupying force are treated as violations of the right to information in foreign territory and are incorporated into the score of the occupying force's country.
The rest of the questionnaire, which is sent to outside experts and members of the RWB network, concentrates on issues that are hard to quantify such as the degree to which news providers censor themselves, government interference in editorial content, or the transparency of government decision-making.
Legislation and its effectiveness are the subject of more detailed questions. Questions have been added or expanded, for example, questions about concentration of media ownership and favouritism in the allocation of subsidies or state advertising. Similarly, discrimination in access to journalism and journalism training is also included.
A score and a position are assigned to each country in the final ranking. They are complementary indicators that together assess the state of press freedom. In order to make the index more informative and make it easier to compare different years, scores will henceforth range from 0 to 100, with 0 being the best possible score and 100 the worst.
The index reflects the situation during a specific period. This year's index is based solely on events between the start of December 2011 and the end of November 2012. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just violations of freedom of information.
The index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the media in the countries concerned.
[The full report contains more technical details on indicators and score calculations.]