Press freedom declines in Iran, Israel

Iran and Israel both drew harsh criticism for their treatment of journalists in 2009 from the press watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

Iran and Israel both drew harsh criticism for their treatment of journalists in 2009 from the press watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

Iran's ranking fell precipitously in the wake of postelection protests that created what Reporters without Borders called "regime paranoia about journalists and bloggers."

Journalists were arrested and imprisoned and some were forced to flee the country as they attempted to cover the protests and the brutal crackdown that followed them. Among those arrested were Iranian-Canadian journalist Maziar Bahari, a Newsweek reporter who spent five months in prison before his release Oct. 17.

Press freedom index (bottom 10)

  • Vietnam
  • Yemen
  • China
  • Laos
  • Cuba
  • Burma
  • Iran
  • Turkmenistan
  • North Korea
  • Eritrea

Iran also practised automatic prior censorship and state surveillance of journalists, pushing the country to 172nd on the annual ranking of press freedom. In the three countries perennially at the bottom — Turkmenistan (173rd), North Korea (174th) and Eritrea (175th) — the media are so suppressed they are non-existent.

Canada was No. 19 on the ranking, compiled from data on attacks, arrests, laws and overt or covert censorship in each country. That is better than the U.K. or U.S., but behind Australia and the Netherlands.

Israel sank to 93rd in the ranking, behind other Middle Eastern countries such as Kuwait and Lebanon, because of its restrictions on press freedom during the assault in Gaza.

Reporters Without Borders noted widespread military censorship, five arrests and three imprisonments of journalists and a climate of intimidation. In the Gaza Strip, 20 journalists in the Gaza Strip were injured by the Israeli military forces and three were killed while covering the offensive.

The top of the list is occupied by European countries such as Denmark, Finland, Ireland and Sweden, considered to have the freest press in the world.

The watchdog group said some European nations, including France, Italy and Slovakia, are sliding in their rankings, in part because of new legislation that compromises the work of journalists. In Slovakia, for example, a new law grants the government an automatic right of response.

Press freedom index (top 10)

  • Denmark
  • Finland
  • Ireland
  • Norway
  • Sweden
  • Estonia
  • Netherlands
  • Switzerland
  • Iceland
  • Lithuania

Journalists have also been physically threatened in Italy, Spain and the Balkans, especially Croatia, where the owner and marketing director of the weekly Nacional were killed by a bomb.

The U.S. rose in the rankings in the wake of President Barack Obama's election, with the Paris-based organization noting a more relaxed attitude toward the media.

However, "the attitude of the United States toward the media in Iraq and Afghanistan is worrying," Reporters without Borders said, noting that journalists have been injured or arrested by the U.S. military. One, Ibrahim Jassam, is still being held in Iraq.