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Report: Press freedom around world deteriorating - even in U.S.

By
Andrew V. Pestano
Color-coded performance by countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index (white best, red worse, black worst). Image courtesy of Reporters Without Borders
Color-coded performance by countries in the 2015 World Press Freedom Index (white best, red worse, black worst). Image courtesy of Reporters Without Borders

WASHINGTON, Feb. 12 (UPI) -- The world is undergoing a deterioration of the safety of journalists and freedom of the press, according to a report released Thursday.

The World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders ranked 180 countries with criteria that include media independence and competition, the safety and freedom of journalists and the government environment in which the media operate in 2014.

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About two-thirds of the countries surveyed performed worse last year than the year before.

The drop in press freedom can be attributed in part to wars, the ongoing threat from non-state groups like Boko Haram and the Islamic State, violence during protests and the economic crisis, Reporters Without Borders said.

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Countries that experienced a decline in press freedom include the United States, which dropped two spots to 49th in the index.

The drop in the United States is linked to the government's ongoing struggle against WikiLeaks and the prosecution of New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal his sources. Risen regards President Barack Obama as "the greatest enemy to press freedom in a generation."

Adorra (32) dropped 27 spots, the sharpest fall in press freedom for the media's lack of independence from financial, political and religious interests.

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Italy dropped 24 spots to 73rd after journalists experienced defamation suits and threats from groups like the mafia.

Venezuela dropped 21 places to 137th after the national army opened fire on journalists during protests.

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Recently, Egypt (158) began the retrial of two Al Jazeera journalists after they were convicted of aiding the outlawed Muslim Brotherhood – illustrating the strict stance taken by some Arab governments against freedom of the press.

Countries that performed well in the index include Finland, which been in first place for five consecutive years.

Mexico (148) rose four spots, although the fear for safety of journalists has increased. Recently, the decapitated body of a journalist was found. Brazil (99) also went up 12 places.

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There is a correlation between media freedom and economies, Reporters Without Borders said.

Norway and Denmark are countries among the top 20 worldwide with the highest per capita gross domestic product and are ranked second and third in the index, respectively.

The world's poorest countries such as Ethiopia and Gambia are ranked 142nd and 151st, respectively.

Eritrea ranked dead last at 180th.

"In these countries, poverty and authoritarianism go hand in hand, and information is suppressed in favor of state propaganda," the organization said.

That is not always the case. Niger is one of the world's least developed countries but is ranked 47th in the index, two places ahead of the United States.

"Wealth does not guarantee a free press," Reporters Without Borders said. Oil-rich countries like Russia (152) and Iran (173) continue to suppress the free flow of information.

Last year a blogger in Saudi Arabia (164) was sentenced to 10 years in prison and 1,000 lashes for cybercrime and insulting Islam. He received 50 lashes on Jan. 9.

Reporters Without Borders found a correlation between press freedom and the political stability indicator by the Institute for Economics and Peace.

Countries that offer stability to businesses and investors like Germany (12) and New Zealand (6) perform well in the index.

The organization also found countries that spend the most on weapons in relation to gross domestic product like North Korea (179) and Zimbabwe (131) have little press freedom.

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