New Reports Warn of Worldwide Threats to Freedom of the Press

25 April, 2018

Two new reports from international press freedom organizations say that attacks on media threaten major democracies.

Reporters Without Borders, or RSF, and Freedom House released their yearly reports on press freedom this week. Both reports criticized Western populist leaders for discrediting the media, insulting journalists and threatening restrictions.

The writers of the Freedom House report noted that the West's decline in press freedom marks a change from recent years. Five years ago "global pressure on the media did not appear to affect the United States or the established democracies of Europe in any significant way." Now, the report said, populist leaders present a major threat to free expression.

Reporters Without Borders issued a similar warning. That report warned "more and more" democratically-elected leaders see the media as an enemy instead of a necessary part of a democracy. Leaders also express their dislike of the media more publicly, the report said.

Both organizations strongly criticized American President Donald Trump. Reporters Without Borders called him "a media bashing enthusiast." Freedom House noted that Trump's criticism of reporters and media organizations have damaged the public's trust in journalism.

The White House could not be immediately reached to answer the criticism.

President-elect Donald Trump, taking questions at his news conference in New York on Jan. 11, 2017, says reports that Russian agents collected damaging information about him were
President-elect Donald Trump, taking questions at his news conference in New York on Jan. 11, 2017, says reports that Russian agents collected damaging information about him were "all fake news. It's phony stuff. It didn't happen."

Largest drops in Europe

Reporters Without Borders' annual Press Freedom Index ranks countries from 1 to 180. In this year's index, Norway was ranked the highest. North Korea continued to stay at the bottom, at number 180.

The U.S. ranked 45, down two places from last year. The country's falling performance started with the administration of former President Barack Obama and has declined more quickly under Trump.

Historically, Europe has had the freest press in the world. But this year, Europe was the area with the largest decrease in press freedom.

In France last May, a journalist was forced out of a press conference when he asked a politician about involvement in a scandal.

In Poland, officials fined a television station for supporting "illegal activities" by reporting on anti-government protests, Freedom House said.

And in Hungary, the Freedom House report said, a free press has almost disappeared. The report identified one reason as businessmen linked to the ruling party purchasing most of the independent media.

The "Trump Effect" in Asia

Press freedom has also decreased across Asia. Turkey continues to have the highest rate of putting journalists in prison. In the Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has openly threatened journalists.

And the Cambodian government has used Trump's criticism to defend officials' increasing restrictions on independent media.

However, Sarah Repucci of Freedom House said the comparison between the U.S. and Cambodia can be misleading. While the Cambodian press is highly restricted, she said, the U.S. media has strongly pushed back against Trump's attacks.

Overall, every part of the world saw declines in press freedom. But the reports showed positive results in some countries where dictators have left office.

For example, Gambia moved up 21 places, Reporters Without Borders said. The new Gambian president has promised less restrictive press laws and says he will include freedom of expression in the country's constitution.

I'm Caty Weaver.

This story was originally reported by Masood Farivar for VOAnews. Phil Dierking adapted this story for VOA Learning English. Kelly Jean Kelly was the editor.

How do you feel your country's press freedom compares to the rest of the world? Write to us in the Comments Section or on 51VOA.COM.


Words in This Story

journalist - n. the activity or job of collecting, writing, and editing news stories for newspapers, magazines, television, or radio

bash - v. to cause or allow (something, such as part of your body) to hit something very hard or forcefully

enthusiast - n. a person who enjoys something very much

decline - v. to become lower in amount or less in number

global - adj. involving the entire world

significant - adj. large enough to be noticed or have an effect

misleading - adj. something causes someone to believe something that is not true

positive - adj. good or useful

populist - n. of or relating to a political party that claims to represent ordinary people

rank - v. to place (someone or something) in a particular position among a group of people or things that are being judged according to quality, ability, size, etc.

scandal - n. an occurrence in which people are shocked and upset because of behavior that is morally or legally wrong