Record 28 countries rated ‘very bad’ in press freedom index

A record 28 countries are rated “very bad” places for journalism in the World Press Freedom Index, which warns that autocratic regimes are increasingly willing to crack down on independent media outlets.

Billions of people in countries including China, Russia, Saudi Arabia and Pakistan struggle to access journalism produced without intervention from politicians, with reporters in these places often facing threats to their wellbeing.

The annual press freedom list, produced by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders, surveys the state of the media in 180 countries and territories. It blames “globalised and unregulated online information space that encourages fake news and propaganda” for the worsening situation in many countries.

One of the biggest fallers on the list is Myanmar, where dozens of journalists have been put in jail since last year’s military coup. Reporters Without Borders said press freedom in the country had been set back by 10 years.

The organisation’s campaign chief, Rebecca Vincent, said that although the UK ranked a relatively healthy 24th on the list, concerns remained. Key issues include ongoing threats to journalists in Northern Ireland after the killing of Lyra McKee, the government’s attempts to install a political ally as chair of the media watchdog Ofcom, and the ongoing extradition process involving the WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

She said: “The Assange case is globally important and the UK government is enabling the US government to pursue this case against him. It is also becoming increasingly difficult for journalists of all stripes to access information from this government.”

Vincent said weak press freedom left citizens uninformed and less able to hold their governments to account. She warned that authoritarian attitudes towards the media could often spill over into other neighbouring countries, adding: “The war in Ukraine is an extreme example of that – it was a premeditated information war that has turned into a conflict that threatens global security.”

Europe is split in two on the rankings, with Nordic countries such Norway, Denmark and Sweden once again topping the list and receiving praise for following a “democratic model where freedom of expression flourishes”.

The situation in eastern Europe is much worse, with Poland, Hungary and Albania all scoring relatively badly. The lowest-ranked European country for press freedom is Greece, which slips to 108th in the ranking after the crime journalist Giorgos Karaivaz was gunned down on a street in Athens.

The annual ranking has been put together for the last 20 years and is created by assessing direct threats against journalists around the world and combining it with the results of a survey of hundreds of journalists, academics and human rights activists.

Among the worst performers is Hong Kong, which has plummeted to 148th after the introduction of a national security law that targets journalists critical of the Chinese government.

Russia received one of the lowest rankings after the Kremlin established “complete control of news and information by establishing extensive wartime censorship, blocking the media and pursuing non-compliant journalists, forcing many of them into exile”.

1. Norway
2. Denmark
3. Sweden
4. Estonia
5. Finland

24. UK
39. Australia
42. USA

176. Myanmar
177. Turkmenistan
178. Iran
179. Eritrea
180. North Korea

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