Reporters Without Borders released the 2011-2012 version of its Press Freedom Index today, an annual survey of journalistic openness around the world. The results reflect a tumultuous past 12 months, in which access to information was often connected to widespread protests, especially in the Middle East.
Syria and Bahrain, two countries where Arab Spring uprisings were brutally quashed, received their worst ever rankings on the index. Tunisia, on the other hand, where last year's Middle East protests had their start, rose 30 places (although it still finds itself in 134th place).
The rankings are based on a questionnaire that is sent to partners and correspondents of Reporters Without Borders in every country considered. The "Press Freedom Barometer" is determined by statistics that show the number of journalists and media assistants killed or imprisoned in the country in the last year, and the number of netizens - bloggers, internet activists and social media organizers - sent to jail.
But there are other considerations, too. Canada, for instance, is not a dangerous place for members of the media (a score of "zero" for every category in the barometer), but it landed only in 10th place due in part to the fact that government agencies are taking longer to respond to requests for information, and that journalists do not enjoy an absolute right to protect their sources.
Finland, Norway, Estonia, Netherlands and Austria make up the top five spots on the index, while Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan all return to the same spot at the bottom of the list that they found themselves in last year.
"It is no surprise that the same trio of countries, Eritrea, Turkmenistan and North Korea, absolute dictatorships that permit no civil liberties, again occupy the last three places in the index," says the press release that accompanies the report. "This year, they are immediately preceded at the bottom by Syria, Iran and China, three countries that seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror, and by Bahrain and Vietnam, quintessential oppressive regimes. Other countries such as Uganda and Belarus have also become much more repressive."
Another notable development was the ranking of the United States, which fell 27 spots to 47th place. The country's handling of the Occupy protest was cited as the chief reason for the slide: "The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation."
As mentioned above, the creators of the index include Iran on its list of countries that have "lost contact with reality." In the report, it is described as a place where "hounding and humiliating journalists has been part of officialdom's political culture for years. The regime feeds on persecution of the media."
One person who knows that very well is Hossein Derakhshan, a Canadian-Iranian blogger who is currently serving a life sentence at a Tehran prison for his efforts to promote a free internet in the country.
He was on our show back in 2006, talking about press freedom in Iran. Here is a look back at that video, as seen from last year when we learned about a possible death sentence for Derakhshan:
In February 2011, George spoke to Declan Walsh in Pakistan. Declan was the foreign correspondent in Afghanistan and Pakistan for the Guardian newspaper at the time - the interview took place before Osama bin Laden was shot and killed by U.S. Navy Seals and CIA operatives. Declan is now the New York Times Pakistan correspondent. Here's their talk: