The next 10 years will be pivotal for press freedom, the 2020 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) indicates.
In its analysis of the situation for journalists in 180 countries and territories, RSF lists five converging crises that will be decisive for the future of journalism. They are:
- a geopolitical crisis (due to the aggressiveness of authoritarian regimes);
- a technological crisis (due to a lack of democratic guarantees);
- a democratic crisis (due to polarisation and repressive policies);
- a crisis of trust (due to suspicion and even hatred of the media); and
- an economic crisis (impoverishing quality journalism).
These five areas of crisis are now compounded by a global public health crisis. The Index shows a correlation between press freedom violations linked to the coronavirus epidemic and press freedom ranking. It demonstrates that the worldwide public health crisis is being used by the worst-ranked countries to step up harassment and attacks on the media and even to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times.
“We are entering a decisive decade for journalism linked to crises that affect its future,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in analysis published on the organisation’s website.
“The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor. What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030? The answer to that question is being determined today,” he asked.
“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious “shock doctrine” – to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Deloire added. “For this decisive decade to not be a disastrous one, people of goodwill, whoever they are, must campaign for journalists to be able to fulfill their role as society’s trusted third parties, which means they must have the capacity to do so.”
Norway topped the Index for the fourth year in a row in 2020, while Finland is again the runner-up. Denmark (up 2 at 3rd) is next as both Sweden (down 1 at 4th) and the Netherlands (down 1 at 5th) have fallen as a result of increases in cyber-harassment. The other end of the Index has seen little change. North Korea (down 1 at 180th) has taken the last position from Turkmenistan, while Eritrea (178th) continues to be Africa’s worst-ranked country.
The list of biggest declines in the 2020 Index is topped by Haiti, where journalists have often been targeted during violent nationwide protests for the past two years. After falling 21 places, it is now ranked 83rd. The other two biggest falls were in Africa – by Comoros (down 19 at 75th) and Benin (down 17 at 113th), both of which have seen a surge in press freedom violations.