It is almost impossible to watch these days without seeing a story involving attacks on free speech. In the wake of the terrible atrocity in Paris, a gunman in Copenhagen has now killed one person and injured three others at a free speech debate attended by a Swedish cartoonist. Reporters and journalists have become even greater targets for extremists around the world.
The organisation “Reporters without Borders” tracks countries’ records in upholding the fundamental right to free speech in the World Press Freedom Index to draw attention to the negative impact of conflicts on freedom of information and its protagonists.
Some of the countries you would expect to be shining examples are well down the scale. In recent years even nations regarded as democracies are tending to interpret national security in an abusive manner, thus threatening the right to inform and to be informed. The top ranking countries in the index so far in 2015 are Finland, Norway, Denmark and the Netherlands, while the bottom three positions are still held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, where freedom of information is non-existent.
Spain is ranked 35rd behind countries like Jamaica, Namibia and Costa Rica and only two spots behind the United Kingdom at 33. The United States (46th), fell 13 places in 2014, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks.
The year 2014 certainly was a bad year for freedom of information. What were the main reasons for this?
- Political use of religious censorship. Fewer journalists were arrested or convicted for covering religious issues, while more and more countries are using prohibitions on blasphemy and sacrilege to censor political criticism.
- Covering demonstrations has become increasingly dangerous. The year 2014 was marked by increased violence against news providers covering protest gatherings.
- European model erosion. Europe has been drifting downwards in the press freedom index for years.
- “National security”. ´Security is the grounds most often given by governments for gagging the media.
- News control – Many governments and non-state actors used control and manipulation of media coverage as a weapon of war in 2014.
If you are interested in this subject, Reporters without Borders has a website that contains many interesting links to other sources, such as the United Nations.