Ireland drops nine places in press index over blasphemy law


IRELAND’S BLASPHEMY law has caused it to fall from joint first to 10th place in the 2010 Reporters Sans Frontières Press Freedom Index.

Last year, the Paris-based organisation, which measures freedom of the press around the globe, ranked Ireland in joint-first position with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden. Ireland had jumped from joint fourth in 2008, and from eighth place in 2007.

“Obviously the situation in relation to press freedom in general in Ireland is quite good, but Ireland lost a lot of points this year due to the blasphemy legislation,” the organisation’s Olivier Basille told The Irish Times. “The possible consequences of this law, both in Ireland and internationally, are very worrying.”

Reporters Sans Frontières strongly condemned the law, which established blasphemy as an offence punishable by a fine of up to €25,000, shortly after it took effect on January 1st. “As it stands, this law offers legal grounds to religious extremists of all kinds. It allows them to use the force of the law to impose their views,” the organisation had said. “Ireland has just taken the EU back several centuries . . .”

It warned the legislation must under no circumstances be allowed to limit free expression, and it urged the European Council to ask Ireland to repeal the article defining blasphemy as an offence.

Commenting on this year’s Press Freedom Index, organisation secretary general Jean-François Julliard said it was “disturbing” to see several EU states continuing to fall in the rankings. Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20, but some of the other 14 rank very low. Italy is at 49th position, Romania 52nd, and Greece and Bulgaria are at 70th.

The organisation lamented the lack of progress in several EU countries. “They include, above all, France and Italy, where events of the past year – violation of the protection of journalists’ sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists and their work, and judicial summonses – have confirmed their inability to reverse this trend,” it said.

Mr Julliard said the EU risked losing its position as “world leader in respect for human rights – if that were to happen, how could be convincing when it asks authoritarian regimes to make improvements?”

The index is based on questionnaires completed by journalists and media experts worldwide.