Ireland has been ranked sixth in a new press freedom index published by Reporters without Borders, but the international non-profit group has warned of rising worldwide political polarisation amplified by “news and information chaos”.
The Republic was one of just eight countries to receive a “good” verdict from the Paris-based organisation, also known as Reporters sans Frontières (RSF).
This was despite long-standing concerns about the State’s defamation regime, which has been criticised for having a chilling effect on journalism, placing the viability of media organisations in jeopardy and attracting libel tourism to Dublin.
North Korea was ranked bottom out of the 180 countries and territories studied for the 2022 edition of the world press freedom index, which assesses the state of journalism and highlights the "disastrous effects" of fake news and propaganda.
The situation was classified as "very serious" in a record 28 countries, including Russia, Belarus, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Syria, Iraq, Cuba, China, Myanmar and Iran.
RSF said divisions were also growing within democratic societies as a result of the spread of new opinion media adhering to what it called the “Fox News model”, referring to Rupert Murdoch’s US news channel, which is not bound by impartiality regulations. The amplification of disinformation by social media platforms was also playing a role.
It noted that the invasion of Ukraine – ranked 106th, with safety for journalists its lowest-scoring metric – by Russia, ranked 155th, had been preceded by a propaganda war against Ukrainian democracy.
"Margarita Simonyan, the editor in chief of RT, the former Russia Today, revealed what she really thinks in a Russia One TV broadcast when she said no great nation can exist without control over information," said RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire.
“The creation of media weaponry in authoritarian countries eliminates their citizens’ right to information, but is also linked to the rise in international tension, which can lead to the worst kind of wars.”
The repressive autocratic regime in China, ranked 175th, has used its power to isolate its population and that of Hong Kong, which has plummeted to 148th in the index, RSF said.
Suppression of independent media has contributed to a sharp polarisation in "illiberal democracies" such as 66th-ranked Poland, it added, while despite the ending of Donald Trump's presidency, media polarisation also continues to feed and reinforce internal social divisions in the US, ranked 42nd.
RSF's index was topped by a trio of Nordic countries – Norway, Denmark and Sweden – with Estonia and Finland also ranking ahead of the Republic.
The State was 12th in the 2021 list, but RSF has changed its methodology for compiling the index and said the two positions were not comparable.
However, RSF hailed progress for press freedom in Moldova (40th) and Bulgaria (91st) as a result of changes in government bringing hope that conditions for journalism in those countries will improve, even if oligarchs still own or control the media.