Free the Information!

Journalism is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent two thirds of the globe.
This is the horrific picture that comes out from the World Press Freedom Index published last month by Reporters Without Borders (RSF: Reporters Sans Frontières), an independent NGO with consultative status with the United Nations, UNESCO and the Council of Europe and a network of correspondents in 130 countries.
Published every year since 2002 the World Press Freedom Index has become a reliable snapshot of the media freedom situation ranking 180 countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists.
The Index combines a qualitative analysis based on the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated.
The criteria used in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
While the abuse indicator for each country is calculated, by a team of in-house specialists, on the basis of the data about the intensity of abuse and violence against media actors.

On the 3rd of May World Press Freedom Day was celebrated and this year’s theme was: “Information as a Public Good”.
According to the analysis presented by RSF this public good is lacking, more or less, in every region of the planet, and the good behaviours we can all see in some countries are obviously affected in a bad way from situations coming from elsewhere.
The vast world of Information cannot be thought of as airtight containers, so the viruses of disinformation, misinformation and lack of information spread easily in every part of the globe.
But we have a vaccine for that; the best one: Journalism.

“Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors.” RSF Secretary General Christophe Deloire said. “In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

The 2021 Index, based on 2020 data, presents a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field. The data also show that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

The 2021 Edelman Trust barometer (a global report on the average percent trust in societal institutions) reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists, with 59% of respondents in 28 countries saying that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false.

The World Press Freedom Map shown below has not had so few countries coloured white (indicating a situation that is good or optimal) since 2013, when the current evaluation method was adopted. This year, only 12 of the Index’s 180 countries can claim to offer a favourable environment for journalism, as opposed to 13 countries last year.

The country to have been stripped of its “good” classification is Germany (13th). Dozens of its journalists were attacked by supporters of extremist and conspiracy theory believers during protests against pandemic restrictions.

The United States (44th) are still classified fairly good despite the fact that Donald Trump’s final year in the White House was marked by a record number of 400 assaults against journalists and 130 arrests of members of the media.

Brazil (111 th ), where the situation is classified as “bad” due to the vilification and orchestrated public humiliation of journalists made by President Bolsonaro, shares the “red classification” with India (142nd), Mexico (143rd) and Russia (150th), which deployed its repressive apparatus to limit media coverage of protests in support of Kremlin opponent, Alexei Navalny.

China (177th) continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance and propaganda to unprecedented levels, just preceding three totalitarian countries, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, who maintain absolute control over all news and information and deny to present official data of any kind about their affairs.

There has been no significant change about the bad situations in the Middle East’s most authoritarian countries – Saudi Arabia (170th), Egypt (166th) and Syria (173rd) and in North Africa, where Algeria (146th) and Morocco (136th) use the judicial system to help silence journalists.
Speaking of North Africa, in Libya (165th) the media are used to serve the various warring factions and the violence against journalists is encouraged by the fact that abuse goes completely unpunished; the security situation is so bad that foreign reporters are no longer able to visit and cover what is now a news and information black hole, and last month it was revealed by a newspaper that 15 Italian journalists who were reporting on migration in the central Mediterranean (above all from Libya) were secretly recorded by prosecutors investigating sea rescue NGOs and charities for alleged complicity in people smuggling; lawyers and watchdog organisations described the move as one of the most serious attacks on the press in the history of Italy (44th due to the growing level of verbal and physical violence against reporters).

Despite the position in the ranking (33 rd ), The United Kingdom presented in 2020 disgusting situations, such as a secret government unit that appeared to serve as a clearing house for freedom of information requests, so critical media outlets found themselves blacklisted or facing other restrictions.
Also, the detention of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange particularly blighted the UK’s press freedom record. Assange’s extradition proceedings were marred by extensive barriers to open justice, and despite deciding against the US extradition request in January 2021, the court denied Assange’s bail application.

Apart from the good situations in the Scandinavian countries, not even Europe is a safe place for the journalists anymore, moreover in a crucial moment like these years, when the world has to face the global warming emergency and the profit-oriented moves of corporations clash with the public interests of respecting the planet and the journalists who tell the truth about it.
In fact, more and more often lawsuits called SLAPPs are used by big companies to silence critics on their behaviours about human rights and environment.
Basically the SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) is a form of legal harassment: pursued by law firms on behalf of powerful individuals and corporations who seek to avoid public scrutiny, their aim is to drain the target’s financial and psychological resources and chill critical voices to the detriment of public participation.
These legal intimidation tactics are currently used extensively by fossil fuel companies in Europe against journalists and newspaper who investigate and report about their abuses on the local population of the countries where they have the plants, collusion with criminal organisations and governments, and pollution of lands and seas.

Source: 2021 Freedom of the Press World Map.
Author: Reporters Without Borders.

To see the bigger picture of this analysis, we can use the RSF’s global indicator (measuring the level of media freedom worldwide) that is 0.3% lower in the 2021 Index than it was in 2020, and it has deteriorated by 12% since this indicator was created in 2013.
Also, generally speaking, the pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources, and reporting in the field, and many governments have used the Covid-19 to introduce or increase methods of totalitarian control of information.

With reporters attacked, harassed, sued, arrested and even murdered, it is an urgent issue to move public opinion, that means all of us, to safeguard the public’s access to a freely reported, independent, pluralistic and reliable set of information.
It’s a vital need: there’s nothing you can do to save the Rights of the Planet and the Rights of Human Beings if there isn’t anyone who is telling stories about that Planet and those Human Beings.

And what we can all do is to stand beside these brave journalists, encourage them and read their works: giving YOU the opportunity to be informed about the truth, is what they dedicate their lives to.
So, do it.

Moreover, in our opinion, part of this duty is also to try to understand and verify as much as we can about how the information is processed by media groups: it’s important to know who the publishers are, what kind of business they are financing and what industries or political parties they are related to.
And if they are bad or not good enough, well, we have a moral obligation to call out these issues and criticize them including “journalists” whose raison d’etre is the service of private interests and who are not respecting their brave and professional colleagues.

Almost citing Roberto Saviano, an Italian writer who investigated and reported the international organized crime and lives under police protection since 2006, we can say that what the criminal organizations and governments worry the most about are not the writers and the journalists, but the large numbers of people hearing or reading them.

Cover photo “Journalist Arrest, Occupy Wall Street One Year Later (37 of 39)” by Glenn Halog is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

Photo by David Gomes from Pexels
Photo by Velroy Fernandes from Pexels
Photo by Jhefferson Santos from Pexels

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