Reporters Without Borders (RSF) ranks the UK as number 26 in its latest World Press Freedom Index, released on World Press Freedom Day 2023.
That’s two places down from last year and at the Index launch Kim Sengupta, world affairs editor for the Independent, said it was “appalling” that the UK had sought to retreat from its commitments on freedom of information.
Although the government had said its draft legislation on national security was “not intended against the media” Sengupta said it could be on a “slippery path” and must fulfil its promises on freedom of information and speech.
He noted for instance the arrest by police of accredited journalists at a public Just Stop Oil protest, pointing out that the police action was an obstruction of their rights and “arbitrary and illegal”.
The United States has slipped three places to number 45 in the rankings, Russia slipped 9 places to number 164, and North Korea is at the bottom of the 180 countries listed.
Norway tops the table on freedom of information for the seventh straight year, ahead of the three other Scandinavian countries in the top five – Denmark, Sweden, Finland – with Ireland rising 4 places this year to number two.
The annual survey says the environment for journalism is “bad” in seven out of ten countries and satisfactory in only three out of ten. The UN says 85% of people live in countries where media freedom has declined in the past five years.
The World Press Freedom Index says the situation is “very serious” in an unprecedented 31 countries, up from 21 just two years ago. It says the situation for journalism is “difficult” in 42 countries, “problematic” in 55, and “good” or “satisfactory” in 52 countries.
The annual Index assesses the state of the media in 180 countries and territories, looking at the ability of journalists to publish news in the public interest without interference and without threats to their own safety.
While much of the focus at the launch event was on Russia and Ukraine, China and Iran, the annual report aims to “shed light on major and often radical changes linked to political, social and technological upheavals” warning of mounting threats to journalism from disinformation, propaganda, artificial intelligence, and fake news.
The 2023 Index spotlights the rapid effects that the digital ecosystem’s fake content industry has had on press freedom with most of the Index questionnaire’s respondents reporting that “political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns.
“The difference is being blurred between true and false, real and artificial, facts and artifices, jeopardising the right to information. The unprecedented ability to tamper with content is being used to undermine those who embody quality journalism and weaken journalism itself.”
This year’s Index did not specifically focus on Fox News but last year’s warned that a combination of its impact on other media alongside online fake news and propaganda had a “disastrous effect” around the world by stoking “news and information chaos” and contributing to a jump in societal polarisation.
In April 2023, Fox News agreed to pay nearly $800 million to avert a trial in a lawsuit that would have exposed how the network promoted lies about the 2020 US presidential election and aired claims by Donald Trump supporters that it was stolen.
Settling the lawsuit by Dominion Voting Systems allowed network owner Rupert Murdoch and several of its stars to avoid answering questions about a slew of internal emails and text messages that Dominion said showed Fox executives and personalities knew the accusations were untrue even as they broadcast them.
The day before RSF’s publication of its 2023 World Press Freedom Index, the Pew Research Center released a comprehensive survey of 12,000 US-based journalists showing six-in-ten were extremely or very concerned about declining press freedoms, regardless of whether they worked for left or right-wing outlets.
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