Ireland tops press freedom index


Press freedom watchdog Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) has warned that changes in legislation are proving a threat to press freedom in Europe following the publication of its worldwide Press Freedom Index.

The Paris-based organisation which measures the freedom of the press around the globe, ranked Ireland in joint-first position with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden in the Press Freedom Index 2009.

Ireland jumped from joint fourth in last year's index and from eighth position in the previous year's index.

The United Kingdom did not fare as well, rising three places to joint 20th position while the 'Obama effect' saw the United States climb 20 places from 40th to joint 20th.

Europe, which the organisation said, "long set an example in press freedom", saw several countries fall in the rankings.

France fell eight places to 43rd, Slovakia from joint-seventh to 44th and Italy fell five places to 49th.

Italy, Spain and the Balkan countries were singled out as countries where journalists are physically threatened.

Changes in legislation have been identified as posing the greatest threat to press freedom in Europe. According to RSF, many laws adopted since September 2008, have "compromised" the work of journalists.

Slovakia was singled out where the "dangerous concept" of an automatic right of response and has given the culture minister "considerable influence" over publications.

“It is disturbing to see European democracies such as France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-François said on publication of the report.

“Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home? The Obama effect, which has enabled the United States to recover 20 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us.”

Israel lost its coveted position at the head of Middle Eastern countries due to the military offensive against the Gaza Strip.

The organisation said Israel was adopting the same methods internally that it uses outside its own territory, including the arrest of journalists and increased military censorship, which it said is posing a threat to journalists.

The arrest of five journalists in Israel (Israeli territory) and the imprisonment of three journalists during 'Operation Cast Lead', led to a 'nose-dive' of 47 places to 93rd position. It now sits behind Guinea-Bissau (92nd), Mongolia (91st) and Ukraine (89th) in the list.

Israel was also rated according to its extra-territorial actions, with a particular emphasis on its actions within the Gaza Strip.

RSF said the toll on press freedom due to the war in the Gaza Strip was "very heavy" where it reported that 20 journalists were injured by Israeli military forces and three were killed while covering the offensive.

The watchdog placed Israel (extra-territorial) at 150th position - below Sudan (148th), Democratic Republic of Congo (146th) and Iraq (145th).

The Press Freedom Index is compiled based on questionaires answered by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world.