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Press Freedom Index 2010: U.S. ranks No. 20, Eritrea worst

By Melissa Bell
The Journalists Memorial at the Newseum in Washington. (Photo by James P. Blair/Newseum)

Reporters Without Borders, the journalism watchdog group, released its Press Freedom Index for 2010, tracking media freedom across 178 countries.

The report measures the violations of press freedom in the world, taking into account murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats as well as censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment.

The United States remained in the same position as it occupied last year: No. 20 on the list, behind most of the Northern European countries, New Zealand, Japan and Estonia.

Although Europe does have 13 countries in the top 20, 14 countries in the E.U. rated much lower in the rankings.

The announcement made it clear that economic development does not ensure press freedom. Despite similar economic growth, Brazil and India vastly differed in media rights. Brazil rose 12 places in the past year to No. 58, while India fell 17 places to No. 122.

The 10 worst countries for journalism are Rwanda, Yemen, China, Sudan, Syria, Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. These countries are "marked by persecution of the media and a complete lack of news and information," the report reads.

The index reminds me of a piece The Post's Raju Narisetti wrote this month about his favorite exhibit at the Newseum: the Journalists Memorial, which honors the 1,900 journalists who have died on the job since 1837.

"These are men and women who have given all they could so that some of us can count on a free press in a free society," Narisetti wrote.

By Melissa Bell  | October 21, 2010; 10:10 AM ET
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When I watched the Sundance network’s Iconoclasts episode featuring Renee Zellwiger and Christian Amanpour, I was dumfounded by Amanpour’s remark that murder is the leading cause of death among journalists. Reading 1,900 deaths, now I’m just numbed. Freedom isn’t free and it isn’t just soldier’s who pay for it. There should be a special place in heaven for journalists. That said, what are the criteria for the PFI and, perhaps more important, how are they weighed? I know murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats as well as censorship, confiscation, searches and harassment are “taken into account.” Threats, if not from a governmental source, would almost seem to me to be a positive factor. This factor, I suspect is probably most responsible for keep the USA out of the top 10. Given the libel laws in Europe and most of the worlds, I just find it hard to accept that the USA in not number one. Any insight out there?

Posted by: judgecurran | October 21, 2010 3:17 PM | Report abuse

Thanks for your thoughts, @judgecurran. According to the index, the best countries are Finland, Iceland, Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland, which have very strong laws protecting journalists. It states: "Iceland, for example, is considering an exemplary bill, the Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI), that would provide a unique level of protection for the media. Sweden distinguishes itself by its Press Freedom Act, which has helped to create a particularly favourable climate for the work of journalists, by the strength of its institutions and by its respect for all those sectors of society including the media whose role in a democracy is to question and challenge those in positions of power."

I was surprised to by how low the US ranked, but the report cites the lack of a federal law that protects the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and an expulsion of journalists from Guantanamo on the Pentagon's order.

You can read the full bit here:,176.html

Posted by: Melissa Bell | October 21, 2010 4:31 PM | Report abuse

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