World Press Freedom Index 2013
EAST AFRICA STAGNATES NEAR BOTTOM OF THE INDEX, MALI NOSEDIVES
East Africa: journalists’ graveyard In Somalia (175th, -11) 18 journalists were killed, caught up in bomb attacks or the direct targets of murder, making 2012 the deadliest in history for the country’s media. The Horn of Africa state was the second most dangerous country in the world for those working in news and information, behind Syria.
In Eritrea (in last place in the index for the sixth successive year), no journalists were killed but some were left to die, which amounts to the same thing. With at least 30 behind bars, it is Africa’s biggest prison for journalists. Of 11 incarcerated since 2001, 7 have died as a result of prison conditions or have killed themselves. Since the independent media were abolished more than 10 years ago, there are no independent Eritrean news outlets, other than outside the country, and terror prevails.
East Africa is also a region of censorship and crackdowns. Omar al-Bashir’s Sudan, where more newspapers were seized and the arrests of journalists continued during the summer, is stuck firmly in 170th place, in the bottom 10 of the index.
Djibouti (167th, -8), which has no independent media, detained a correspondent of the foreign-based news site La Voix de Djibouti. Despite the release of two Swedish journalists arrested in 2011, Ethiopia (137th) fell ten places because of its repressive application of the 2009 anti-terrorist law and the continued detention of several local journalists.
Political unrest in Mali and the Central African Republic
Mali (99th, -74), which was long presented as the continent’s star performer in democracy and press freedom, was prey to the political events that overtook it during the year. The military coup in Bamako on 22 March and the seizure of the north of the country by Touareg separatists and Islamic fundamentalists exposed news organizations to censorship and abuses. Many northern radio stations stopped broadcasting, while in the capital several Malian and foreign journalists were assaulted. All these occurred before the external military intervention in January 2013.
The Central African Republic was ranked 65th in 2012. Events after the outbreak of the Seleka rebellion at the very end of the year (radio stations ransacked, one journalist killed) were not taken into consideration in this index, thus preventing the country from falling more than 50 places. These will be included in the 2014 version. In Guinea-Bissau (92nd, -17) a media blackout and military censorship that followed the coup on 12 April explain that country’s drop.
Africa’s predatory censors
Yahya Jammeh, King Mswati III, Paul Kagame, and Teodoro Obiang Nguema, together with other heads of state such as Issaias Afeworki (Eritrea) and Ismael Omar Guelleh (Djibouti) are members of an exclusive club of authoritarian African leaders, some eccentric others stern, who hold their countries in an iron grasp and keep a firm grip on news and information. Their countries, respectively Gambia (152nd), Swaziland (155th), Rwanda (161st) and Equatorial Guinea (166th), are all among the bottom 30 in the index. Media pluralism has been whittled away and criticism of the head of state discouraged.
The biggest losses
Chad (121st, -18) saw journalists harassed and roughed up, the publication of the newspaper N’Djamena Bi-Hebdo temporarily halted and its publisher sentenced to a suspended prison term, and a highly repressive bill kept under wraps. The slow but sure progress that followed the formation of a national unity government in Zimbabwe (133rd, -16) in 2009 and the granting of publication licences to several independent newspapers appeared to have stalled. Violence and arrests of journalists still niggle and if elections go ahead as planned in 2013, the atmosphere for the media promises to be tense. Relatively high placed in 2011-2012, South Sudan (124th) fell 12 places after the murder of a columnist – the first killing of its kind in the new country – as news organizations and journalists awaited the approval of three new laws on the media.
Despite the holding of a national media conference in Cameroon (120th, -23), the future of the sector remains both uncertain and worrying. In the upper reaches of the index, Niger (43rd) nonetheless fell 14 places as a result of the irresponsibility of a few journalists who succumbed to the temptation to abuse the freedom that they enjoyed. Within the space of four months in Tanzania (70th, -36), one journalist was killed while he was covering a demonstration and another was found dead, a clear victim of murder.
Burundi (132nd) fell only two places but remains a low position. Summonses of journalists declined but the case of Hassan Ruvakuki, given a life sentence reduced to three years on appeal, has created an atmosphere of fear among the media.
Return to normality
After a dreadful year in 2011, marked by the dictatorial behaviour of the late President Bingu Wa Mutharika, a violent crackdown on demonstrations and the murder of the blogger Robert Chasowa, Malawi (75th) recorded the biggest jump in the entire index, up 71 places, close to the position it held in 2010. Similarly, Ivoiry Coast rose 63 places to 96th despite persistent problems. It had plummeted in the previous index because of a post-election crisis and the murders of a journalist and another media worker, as well as the civil conflict that broke out in Abidjan in April. Uganda (104th) was up 35 places thanks to a better year, but things were far from satisfactory as far as the media were concerned. The year ended with President Yoweri Museveni making open threats to several radio stations.
For Senegal (59th, +16), 2012 was a year of hope. The presidential election took place in a peaceful atmosphere for the media, despite a few regrettable assaults on journalists, and President Macky Sall, who had declared himself willing to decriminalize press offences, took office. Much remains to be proved in 2013, as was illustrated by the prison sentence handed down on a journalist in December.
In Liberia (97th, +13), the presidential election in November 2011 had been tainted by the closure of several media outlets and attacks on journalists. In 2012, the atmosphere improved greatly. In the summer, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the second African head of state, after Mahamadou Issoufou of Niger, to sign the Declaration of Table Mountain, thereby undertaking to promote media freedom.
Namibia (19th), Cape Verde (25th) and Ghana (30th) maintained their record as the highest ranked African countries
2012 – Year Two of the new Arab world
“Arab spring” uprisings caused a lot of movements in the Press Freedom Index in 2011 and the situation was still very mixed in 2012, with countries where governments have fallen, countries where they still survive but are facing uprisings, and countries where, by dint of compromises and promises, they have managed to assuage the demands for change.
Syria and Bahrain at the bottom of the index
Syria is ranked 176th in the index, fourth from last. Of all the ranked countries, it is the one that saw the most attacks on freedom of information. Journalists are targeted by all the parties to the conflict – the regular army and the various opposition factions – who are waging an information war.
Bahrain (165th) rose eight places, after limited improvement. The government crackdown continued in 2012 but was slightly less violent than the previous year, when the country plunged 29 places. In all, Bahrain has fallen 66 places in the space of four years and is now in the bottom 20.
Fertile revolutions for freedom of information?
After the fall of dictators, the promises of media pluralism and independence are not always sufficiently translated into action.
Libya (131st, +23) rose more than 20 places. This jump was due to the overthrow of Muammar Gaddafi’s 42-year regime and its positive impact on freedom of information. Libya’s ranking the year before was affected by all the violations in 2011, when Gaddafi was still clinging to power. The improvements nonetheless need to be confirmed by the inclusion of freedom of information in the constitution and the adoption of laws guaranteeing this freedom and providing real protection for journalists and safeguards for media pluralism and independence.
Two years after Ben Ali’s fall, Tunisia (138th) slipped four places, after jumping more than 30 places in 2011. Why? Because there was an increase in attacks on journalists in the first quarter of 2012 and because the authorities have maintained a judicial void by delaying the implementation of decree-laws regulating the media. This allowed them to arbitrarily appoint people to run the state-owned media. Furthermore, politicians often refer to journalists and news media with contempt or even hate.
Egypt (158th) rose eight places, two years after Hosni Mubarak’s departure. This was a slight improvement on 2011, when violence against media personnel caused the country to plummet 39 places from 127th. Journalists and netizens continue to be the targets of physical attacks, arrests and trials and one was fatally injured in December. Shortly after winning elections, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed new executives and editors to run the state newspapers, which had a major impact on their editorial policies. The constitution adopted at the end of 2012 contains vaguely-worded provisions that clearly threaten freedoms. News media can still be closed or seized on the orders of a judge.
Yemen (171st, +2) continued to languish in the bottom ten. There have been no legislative changes in the year since Abd Rab Mansour Hadi took over as president. Journalists are still exposed to physical attacks, prosecution and even jail sentences. A bill on privately-owned broadcasts and electronic media with a number of draconian provisions, which was submitted to parliament in 2012, has not been totally abandoned.
Countries "spared" by Arab springs rein in news providers
Buffeted by social and economic protests, the Sultanate of Oman (141st) sank 24 places, the biggest fall in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. Some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse-majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights. The authorities gave promises in response to demands for political, social and economic change but did not carry them out.
A repressive royal decree in September was one of the reasons why Jordan (134th, -6) fell. The decree changed the press law and drastically restricted freedom of information, especially for online media, brushing aside all the reform promises that the government gave at the height of the popular unrest in 2011. Journalists are being tried before military courts, especially when they criticize the royal family.
Algeria (125th, -3) fell a few places because journalists were the targets of both physical attacks and judicial proceedings, and because of an increase in economic pressure on independent media. More than a year after parliament passed a law that is supposed to abolish the state’s broadcasting monopoly, there are still no privately-owned TV stations because a regulatory authority, an essential prior condition, has still not been created. So, for the time being, the new law is nothing but window dressing.
The ranking of Morocco (136th, +2) is stable. Media reform was announced after Prime Minister Abdelilah Benkirane took office in November 2011 but his government is dragging its feet on the promised changes, especially decriminalization of media offences. Decisions on such matters as the granting and withdrawal of accreditation are often arbitrary and lacking in transparency.
Palestine (146th) is still in the bottom quarter but it rose eight places. An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.
Iraq (150th) rose two places, but this followed a fall of 22 places last year. The security situation for journalists continues to be very worrying, with three killed in connection with their work in 2012 and seven killed in 2011. Journalists are constantly obstructed.
There were only slight changes in the rankings of Saudi Arabia (163rd, -5), Kuwait (77th, +1) and the United Arab Emirates (114th, -2).
Lebanon (101st) fell eight places, after its media became more polarized by neighbouring Syria’s civil war. Its journalists are exposed to arbitrary detention and mistreatment.
The 20-place fall of Israel (112nd) is due to the actions of the Israel Defence Forces in the Palestinian Territories – actions that used to be given a separate ranking in the index under the label of “Israel extraterritorial”. During Operation “Pillar of Defence” in November 2012, IDF deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it. And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace. Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem.
Relatives held hostage in Iran
Somalia’s fall in the index due to the many deaths of journalists there in 2012 allowed Iran (174th) to rise one place. Its print and broadcast media and news websites are all controlled by the Ministry of Intelligence and the Revolutionary Guards. The authorities have internationalized their repression by making hostages out of the relatives of Iranian journalists who work abroad or in Iran for foreign news media. The Islamic Republic is one of the world’s five biggest prisons for news and information providers.
Burmese spring an exception to decline in freedom of information in Asia
Only three Asian countries are in the top 25 percent of the table, while 15 countries are among the bottom 45 places. Unsurprisingly, one-party authoritarian governments figure more than ever among the predators of press freedom and languish at the bottom end of the table.
Burma’s paper revolution
Burma went through dramatic changes in 2012 and moved up to 151th place, a rise of 18 places, jumping ahead of its usual bedfellows in the media repression stakes. There are no longer any journalists or cyber dissidents in the jails of the old military dictatorship. Legislative reform has only just begun but the steps already taken by the government in favour of the media, such as an end to prior censorship and the permitted return of media organizations from exile, are significant steps towards genuine freedom of information.
China, Vietnam, Laos, North Korea: no signs of improvement
North Korea (178th), China (173rd), Vietnam (172nd) and Laos (168th), all ruled by authoritarian parties, still refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed. The control of news and information is a key issue for these government, which are horrified at the prospect of being open to criticism. North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un, who succeeded his father Kim Jong-il on 30 December 2011, appears to rule in concert with the military junta.
In Vietnam and China, those involved in online news and information, such as bloggers and netizens, are forced to deal with increasingly harsh repression. Many Tibetan monks have been convicted or abducted for having sent information abroad about the disastrous state of human rights in Tibet. Commercial news outlets and foreign media organizations are still censored regularly by the propaganda department. Faced with the growing power of social networks and their ability to muster support, the authorities have redoubled their efforts to hone their capability to track “sensitive” content and delete it immediately from the Web. In less than a year, Vietnamese courts havesentenced 12 bloggers and cyber-dissidents to jail terms of up to 13 years, making the country the world’s second biggest prison for netizens, after China.
General decline in freedom of information in South Asia
The Indian subcontinent was the Asian region that saw the sharpest deterioration in the climate for those involved in news and information in 2012. In the Maldives, which crashed to 103rd place (-30), the events that led to the resignation of President Mohammed Nasheed in February led to violence and threats against journalists in state television and private media outlets regarded as pro-Nasheed by the coup leaders.
Attacks on press freedom have increased since then. Many journalists have been arrested, assaulted and threatened during anti-government protests. On June 5, the freelance journalist and blogger Ismail “Hilath” Rasheed narrowly survived the first attempted murder of a journalist in the archipelago.
Four journalists were killed in India and Bangladesh in 2012, which fell to 140th and 144th respectively in the index. In India, the “world’s biggest democracy”, the authorities insist on censoring the Web and imposing more and more taboos, while violence against journalists goes unpunished and the regions of Kashmir and Chhattisgarh become increasingly isolated. Bangladesh is not far behind. Its journalists are frequently targets of police violence. When they are not acting as aggressors, the security forces stand by passively while enemies of the media enjoy impunity and are rarely brought to justice. The killers of the journalists Sagar Sarowar and Meherun Runi, and those behind the double murder, remained at large and the investigation was cynically entrusted to the Rapid Action Battalion where it remains bogged down.
The ability of journalists to work freely in Pakistan (159th, -8) and Nepal (118th, -12) continued to worsen in the absence of any government policy to protect media workers. Despite having a diverse and lively media, Pakistan remains one of the world’s most dangerous countries for reporters.
Japan resorts to press restrictions
Japan, demoted from 22nd to 53rd place, recorded the biggest drop of any Asian country. The reason was the ban imposed by the authorities on independent coverage of any topic related directly or indirectly to the accident at the Fukushima Daiichi nuclear power plant. Several freelance journalists who complained that public debate was being stifled were subjected to censorship, police intimidation andjudicial harassment.
The continued existence of the discriminatory system of “kisha clubs”, exclusive press clubs which restrict access to information to their own members, is a key element that could prevent the country from moving up the index significantly in the near future.
Afghanistan: genuine but fragile improvement
Afghanistan (128th, +22) has a considerably better rating than in previous years, although violence against journalists did not disappear completely and the government neglected to tackle the issue of impunity. No journalists were killed in 2012 and arrests of media workers declined. The withdrawal of some foreign troops from the international coalition and deteriorating conditions in neighbouring Pakistan meant these improvements were precarious.
Cambodia and Malaysia: drift towards authoritarianism
Conditions for the media are critical in Cambodia, which fell 26 places to 143th in the index, its lowest ever position. Since 2011, news organizations, in particular independent local and foreign radio stations, have been subjected to a policy of censorship orchestrated by an increasingly ruthless information ministry. On 1 October 2012, Mam Sonando, the owner of an independent radio station, was sentenced to 20 years’ imprisonment for insurrection and inciting others to take up arms against the state. The decline in freedom of information also involved deadly attacks and death threats aimed at journalists who exposed government corruption and illegal activities harmful to the environment.
Malaysia (145th) also presented a sorry record, falling 23 places to a position below the one it had in 2002. Despite an all-out battle by rights activists and online media outlets, a campaign of repression by the government, illustrated by the crackdown on the “Bersih 3.0” protest in April, and repeated censorship efforts, continue to undermine basic freedoms, in particular the right to information.
Papua-New Guinea and Fiji: threats against journalists greeted with indifference Threats to the media should not be taken lightly in these two Pacific archipelagos. In Papua-New Guinea (41st, -6), the security forces are regularly involved in attacks on journalists. In Fiji (107th), despite a 10-place rise explained in part by the decline of other countries in this section of the index, news organizations are threatened under the Media Industry Development Decree with exorbitant fines, or even imprisonment, as in the case of a recently convicted editor of the Fiji Times.
Violence, polarization still obstruct reporting in Americas
Just as the emergence of major protest movements (and ensuing crackdowns) had a big impact on the rankings of certain countries in 2011, so a decline in the protests has logically also had an impact a year later.
Chile, for example, rose 20 places to 60th in the index after the previous year’s student protests abated in 2012. Crackdowns were concentrated in the Aysén region, which saw big protests in the first quarter. But Chile’s improvement must be put in perspective. Its media landscape is skewed, community broadcast media are criminalized, especially in the Mapuche region, and journalists have run into difficulties when trying to investigate the 1973-90 military dictatorship.
For similar reasons, the United States rose 15 places to 32nd, recovering a ranking more appropriate to the “country of the First Amendment.” Its previous year’s fall was due to the fact that the crackdown on the Occupy Wall Street movement did not spare reporters in the field. Canada, on the other hand, fell ten positions to 20th, losing its status as the western hemisphere’s leader to Jamaica (13th). This was due to obstruction of journalists during the so-called “Maple Spring” student movement and to continuing threats to the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and Internet users’ personal data, in particular, from the C-30 bill on cyber-crime.
The clearest new trends are to be seen in the south. Brazil fell again, this time 9 places to 108th, after falling 41 places in 2011. Its media landscape is also badly distorted. Heavily dependent on the political authorities at the state level, the regional media are exposed to attacks, physical violence against their personnel, and court censorship orders, which also target the blogosphere. These problems were exacerbated by violence during the campaign for the October 2012 municipal elections.
Media wars and coup precipitate falls
Paraguay fell 11 places to 91st following President Fernando Lugo’s June 2012 removal in an “institutional coup d’état,” which had an almost immediate impact on the news media. A full-blown purge of employees in state-owned media created by the Lugo administration was accompanied by frequent programme censorship. The few community radio stations with broadcast frequencies were also scared of losing them.
Despite a high level of physical violence against journalists, Peru rose 10 places to 105th, now topping Brazil, itself one place above Bolivia (109th), where several media were the targets of spectacular arson or dynamite attacks and both national and local polarization are having an impact. Ecuador fell 15th places to 119th after a year of extreme tension between the government and leading privately-owned media. This left it two places below Venezuela, where several media were closed arbitrarily, a journalist was killed and more than 170 cases of violence were reported in a “media war” climate.
Although on a less dramatic scale, polarization is becoming a concern in Argentina, which slipped a few places to 54th amid growing tension between the government and certain privately-owned media, above all the Clarín group, which is resisting full implementation of the 2009 Ley de Medios, a law regulating the broadcast media. On the other bank of the River Plate, Uruguay continued its climb, this time to 27th position, within 10 places of Costa Rica, still Latin America’s leader at 18th.
There has been little change in the marked contrasts that were seen in Central America in 2011. A lack of pluralism, intermittent tension with the political authorities, harassment and self-censorship are the main reasons for the scant change in Nicaragua (78th), Guatemala (95th) and Panama (111th), where attacks on journalists tripled in the space of a year, local unions said.
On the other hand, El Salvador owes its enviable 38th place to government efforts to combat violence crime, even if journalists and media often complain about the lack of access to state-held information. The Dominican Republic rose 15 places to 80th because of a decline in violence against journalists and legal proceedings that threaten freedom of information. But it is still far behind its neighbour Haiti (49th), where the situation is still largely unchanged although some journalists have accused President Michel Martelly of hostility towards them.
Caribbean turmoil, same countries at the bottom
Political tension and judicial harassment account for the ranking of other countries in the Guyanas and Caribbean. Trinidad and Tobago (44th) still has not stopped its illegal monitoring of journalists’ phone calls and attempts to identify their sources, although it promised to stop in 2010. In Surinam (down nine places to 31th), the often stormy relations between President Desi Bouterse and many journalists are unlikely to improve after the passage of an amnesty law for the murders of around 15 government opponents, including five journalists, three decades ago when Bouterse was Surinam’s dictator. He returned to power through the polls in 2010.
The seven-member Organization of East Caribbean States fell eight places to 34th because of often direct pressure from the political authorities on news media and the failure to move ahead with the decriminalization of defamation. Similar pressure was reported in Guyana (69th), whose ranking continues to suffer from the state’s monopoly of radio broadcasting.
In the bottom third, Honduras was 127th because two journalists were killed in direct connection with their work and because the status quo imposed by the June 2009 coup remains unchanged. There has never been any let-up in the persecution of opposition media and community radio stations, or in the criminalization of human rights activists and grass-roots movements that provide information about such sensitive issues as land disputes, police abuses and minority rights.
Although hopes have been raised by the latest negotiations between the government and FARC guerrillas, Colombia (129th) still has its paramilitaries-turned-drug traffickers, who are the enemies of all those involved in the provision of news and information. Another journalist was killed in 2012 although there was a slight decrease in the number of physical attacks.
With six journalists killed, Mexico (153rd) has maintained its status as the hemisphere’s most dangerous country for the media. Violence and censorship were particularly noticeable during the controversial July 2012 elections, which restored the presidency to the Institutional Revolutionary Party (PRI). Cuba, the hemisphere’s only country to tolerate no independent media (or with few exceptions), got the region’s lowest ranking – 171st. The past year has seen a renewed crackdown on dissent and the island now has two journalists in prison, one of them a state media employee.
OUTSIDE THE EUROPEAN UNION, FREEDOM OF INFORMATION IS IN A STATE OF COLLAPSE.
Within its borders, Hungary and Greece have slumped.
The Balkans remain rooted in the repressive practices of the past.
The status quo was maintained in many of the countries in the European Union. Sixteen were listed among the top 30. At first sight, this was encouraging, but it concealed the slow erosion of the European model as a result of inconsistencies and worrying developments among the other 11 countries, some of which fell below 80th place.
The legislative haemorrhage that began in 2011 continued unabated in 2012, notably in Italy (57th, +4) wherethe decriminalization of defamation has not yet been achieved and where institutions make dangerous use of “gagging laws”. The effects of stagnating advertising and budget cuts, which constantly undermine the business model, are also starting to be felt. France (up one to 37) has marked time pending progress on the good intentions voiced by the new government.
Hungary (56th, -16) is still paying the price of repressive legislation that has had a palpable effect on how journalism is practised. However, more worrying is the fall of Greece (84th, -14), whose journalists operate in a disastrous social and professional atmosphere. Exposed to popular anger and continually facing violence on the part of both extremists and the police, reporters and photojournalists must now cope with the ultra-violent neo-Nazi activists of the Golden Dawn party. The country has moved closer to Bulgaria (87th, -7), whose promises of reform came to nothing and where the Internet ceased to be a safe place for freelance journalists.
For Croatia (64th, +4), due to join the EU in June this year, and Serbia (63rd, +17) the picture is mixed. Legislative reforms have brought an improvement, but it should not be forgotten that there are still many obstacles to overcome and old habits that are harmful to independent journalism still linger. Albania (102nd, -6), Montenegro (113rd, -6), and especially Macedonia (116th, -22) bring up the rear of the index for the Balkans with the same sorry record: judicial harassment based on often inappropriate legislation, the lack of access to public data, physical and psychological violence against those who work in news and information, official and private advertising markets used as a tool, the grey economy’s hold over vital parts of the media. All are obstacles to the right to report the news and people’s right to know it. Following the dangerous examples of Hungary and Italy, the Macedonian parliament is preparing to ”legalize censorship”, continually blowing hot and cold towards a profession that is often out on its own.
Race to the bottom by Eastern Europe and Central Asia
Bad models for the region
Despite a varied and lively media, Turkey (154th, -6) lies in an unworthy position as the regional model which it aspires to be. In the name of the fight against terrorism, democratic Turkey is today the world’s biggest prison for journalists. The state’s paranoia about security, which has a tendency to see every criticism as a plot hatched by a variety of illegal organizations, intensified even more during a year marked by rising tension over the Kurdish question. Will the announcement of reform of the anti-terrorist laws, promised many times but always rejected, and the resumption of talks between the authorities and rebels of the Kurdish PKK, lead to a genuine change in approach?
Russia (148th, -6) set a tone of increased repression in the former Soviet Union in 2012. Opposition protests on an unprecedented scale showed civil society to be more vocal than ever. The state responded with a wholesale crackdown: re-criminalization of defamation, tighter control of the Internet, making foreign funding of human rights organizations a crime. This marked start of a new era in relations between the state and society that presents huge challenges for freedom of information.
Just as it assumed the rotating chairmanship of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE) Ukraine (126th, -10) setthe worst record for the media since the Orange Revolution in 2004. The chronically high level of violence towards journalists hit a new peak, while impunity remained total. Such an unhealthy atmosphere served only to increase the vulnerability of independent news outlets to ever-stronger pressure.
Kazakhstan (160th, -6) reached a turning point in 2012. President Nursultan Nazarbayev’s government, forging ahead with its policies of repression, moved closer to the ultra-authoritarian model of its neighbours in Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan. The year saw assassination attempts, arrests and intimidation aimed at independent journalists, ending with the outright closure of the main national opposition news organizations.
Tajikistan (123rd, -1), struggling to catch up with its neighbours in the cyber censorship stakes, recruited an army of “volunteers” to monitor the Internet and blocked independent news sites as well as Facebook with increasing frequency.
Azerbaijan and Belarus: partial return to the status quo
The rise of Azerbaijan (156th, +6) and Belarus (157th, +11) offers little cause for celebration. It represents a partial return to the status quo before 2011’s violent crackdowns on protest demonstrations. Dozens of journalists were arrested and beaten up, pushing the two dictatorships towards the bottom of the index. But the horizon is still obscured by the shadows cast by the huge egos of Alexander Lukashenko and Ilham Aliyev. Independent journalists and netizens remain at great risk in carrying out their duty of keeping the public informed. In Azerbaijan, the noose tightened around what remained of the opposition media and several journalists languished behind bars without trial in appalling conditions. The year 2013 began with fresh arrests and widespread violence, which point to a further downward slide in the next index.
Bottom of the list: Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan remain a nightmare for journalists In Uzbekistan (164th, -7) and Turkmenistan (177th, 0), there is little change from one year to the next. The sinister dictatorship of Uzbek President Islam Karimov refined its control of the Internet, maintained a stranglehold on the media and kept a dozen journalists in prison in appalling conditions. The official proclamation of a multi-party system and freedom of expression brought no changes whatsoever to the totalitarian rule in Turkmenistan which, as in previous years, rubbed shoulders with North Korea and Eritrea in the world index. Triumphantly “re-elected” with 97 percent of the vote in February 2012, Turkmen President Gurbanguly Berdymukhamedov, who now has the official title of “protector” of the nation, has pressed forward with the establishment of his own personality cult.
Leading group dispersed but face common challenges
Despite their wide dispersal in this edition of the index, Moldova (55th, -2), Armenia (74th, +3), Georgia (100th, +4) and Kyrgyzstan (106th, +2) have a number of things in common. These countries enjoy broad media pluralism and a low level of state censorship, but they still face important challenges concerning media independence and the working environment of journalists. The latter are often in the firing line in highly polarized societies and treated as easy prey by a variety of pressure groups.