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Reporters Without Borders today publishes its second world press freedom ranking. Like last year, the most catastrophic situation is to found in Asia, with eight countries in the bottom ten: North Korea, Burma, Laos, China, Iran, Vietnam, Turkmenistan and Bhutan. Independent news media are either non-existent in these countries, or are constantly repressed by the authorities. Journalists there work in extremely difficult conditions, with no freedom and no security. A number of them are imprisoned in Burma, China and Iran.
Cuba is in 165th position, second from last. Twenty-six independent journalists were arrested in the spring of 2003 and sentenced to prison terms ranging from 14 to 27 years, making Cuba the world’s biggest prison for journalists. They were accused of writing articles for publication abroad that played into the hands of "imperialist interests." Eritrea, in 162nd position, has the worst situation in Africa. Privately-owned news media have been banned there for the past two years and 14 journalists are being held in undisclosed locations.
To compile this ranking, Reporters Without Borders asked journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists to fill out a questionnaire evaluating respect for press freedom in a particular country. A total of 166 countries are included in the ranking (as against 139 last year). The other countries were left out because of a lack of reliable, well-supported data.
Conversely, the 50 countries that respect press freedom least include such rich nations as Bahrain (117th) and Singapore (144th).
The Israeli army’s repeated abuses against journalists in the occupied territories and the US army’s responsibility in the death of several reporters during the war in Iraq constitute unacceptable behaviour by two nations that never stop stressing their commitment to freedom of expression.
Kuwait (102nd) replaced Lebanon (106th) as the Arab world’s leader as regards respect for freedom of expression because of cases of censorship in Lebanon, together with abusive judicial proceedings and an attack on the television station Futur TV. Saudi Arabia (156th), Syria (155th), Libya (153rd) and Oman (152nd) used all the means at their disposal to prevent the emergence of a free and independent press.
In Morocco (131st), the hopes pinned on Mohammed VI when he became king in July 1999 have been dashed. Independent newspapers are still subject to constant harassment from the authorities. Ali Lmrabet, the publisher and editor of two satirical weeklies, was sentenced in June 2003 to three years in prison for "insulting the person of the king" because of articles and cartoons touching on taboo subjects.
Spain’s relatively low ranking (42nd) is due to difficulties for journalists in the Basque country. The terrorist organisation ETA has stepped up its threats against the news media, promising to target journalists whose coverage does not match its view of the situation. Furthermore, the necessary fight against terrorism has affected press freedom, with the forced closure as a "preventive measure" of the Basque newspaper Egunkaria, whose senior staff are suspected of collaborating with ETA.
France is ranked as low as 26th because of its archaic defamation legislation, the increasingly frequent challenges to the principle of confidentiality of sources and the repeated abusive detention of journalists by police.
Press freedom is virtually non-existent in much of central Asia, especially Turkmenistan (158th) and Uzbekistan (154th). No criticism of the authorities is tolerated.
Such violence results in considerable self-censorship by the news media, which do not dare to broach such subjects as corruption, collusion between political leaders and organised crime, or sectarian clashes. At the same time, the authorities very often fail to respond to this violence with the appropriate measures, namely protection for journalists and the punishment of those responsible.
|-||Trinidad and Tobago||1,00|
|-||United States of America (American territory)||6,00|
|37||Bosnia and Herzegovina||6,83|
|44||Israel (Israeli territory)||8,00|
|85||Serbia and Montenegro||21,33|
|107||Central African Republic||32,75|
|122||United Arab Emirates||37,00|
|127||Democratic Republic of Congo||38,50|
|135||United States of America (in Iraq)||41,00|
|146||Israel (Occupied Territories)||49,00|