PARIS — Someone, somewhere will probably call this fake news.
Reporters Sans Frontières, a Paris-based organization for the protection of journalists and free expression, released its latest annual World Press Freedom Index this morning, and … little good news to report. The Index, which tracks criteria like harassment and violence against journalists and laws protecting reporters and sources in 180 countries, found that nearly everywhere, things got worse in 2016 for journalists.
Among the findings, democratic nations are electing "strongmen," who are using their newfound power to target the press. This has perhaps gotten most attention in the U.S., which fell two spots as newly elected President Donald Trump targeted the press directly, and all of society wrestled with so-called "fake news," "post truth" and alternative facts. But the U.S. is not alone. France's current election is the latest stage on which to watch politicians rail against the press and citizens share false news reports. We'll see where the country stands in next year's report.
Other democracies like Canada, Poland and New Zealand slipped in the rankings following an increasing "obsession with surveillance and violations of the right to the confidentiality of sources." How they've done this varies by country. Germany extended mass surveillance by the government without an exception for journalists; New Zealand passed a law punishing information leaks with a five-year prison sentence; and in Canada, Quebec police spied on at least six investigative journalists.
That the state of press is linked to political changes shouldn't surprise anyone.
But a far more troubling country for press freedom was Turkey, where the government has jailed more than 100 journalists following the July 15 failed coup and the subsequent rise in authoritarian rule of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Finland and Eritrea both lost their multi-year streaks as the best and worst places for reporters after the Finnish prime minister attempted to halt a news report on a conflict of interest and Eritrea allowed a (closely monitored) film crew into the country, even though it still keeps journalists locked up in secret jails. The respective best and worst places for press freedom in 2016 were Norway and North Korea.
For the Index, published annually since 2002, there were two bright spots this year worth noting: Gambia, which expelled an autocratic president and removed restrictions on previously censored newspapers; and Colombia, where not a single journalist was assassinated for the first time in seven years.
That the state of press is linked to political changes shouldn't surprise anyone. But while we may have sensed that 2016 was a bad year for press freedom, the latest Reporters Sans Frontières rankings now offers some solid evidence that, yes, this news is very real.