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Journalism watchdog's global index shows press freedom is under attack

Reporters Without Borders warned that governments' support for press freedom around the world has been shrinking.

A Land Rover used by Reuters in Gaza is displayed at London's Imperial War Museum
A Land Rover used by Reuters in Gaza, where it was damaged in a 2006 rocket attack, is displayed at London's Imperial War Museum (AN/J. Heilprin)

Political authorities who should be the guarantors of press freedom are instead threatening journalists with detention, suppressing independent media outlets and spreading misinformation, a new global study finds.

Reporters Without Borders' World Press Freedom Index, released on Friday to coincide with the U.N.'s World Press Freedom Day, ranks 180 countries based on journalists' ability to report freely and independently.

It shows this year's elections in at least 64 countries plus the European Union portend "very strong pressure on journalists" around the world.

Governments and other political forces play "a decreasing role in protecting press freedom," said Anne Bocandé, the organization's editorial director, and "this disempowerment sometimes goes hand in hand with more hostile actions that undermine the role of journalists."

'Systematic impunity'

The most challenging places are in the Middle East and North Africa regions where governments operate with “systematic impunity for crimes of violence against journalists,” the report says.

The Israel-Hamas war has led to the deadliest period for journalists since the Committee to Protect Journalists began gathering data in 1992, the organization said. CPJ said its preliminary investigations show at least 97 journalists and media workers were among the more than 35,000 killed since the war began on Oct. 7.

Norway, Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands and Finland top the Reporters Without Borders' rankings while Eritrea, Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea and Iran are at the bottom.

Russia and China rank 162nd and 172nd, respectively, an improvement for each, while the United States ranks 55th, marking a decline. In 138 countries, the report says, political forces were often involved in propaganda or disinformation campaigns.

'Not a choice, but a necessity'

U.N. Secretary-General António Guterres said journalists and media workers risk their lives trying to report on wars, democracy and environmental degradation.

"Without facts, we cannot fight mis- and disinformation. Without accountability, we will not have strong policies in place. Without press freedom, we won't have any freedom," he said.

The U.N. chief called on governments, businesses and civil society to protect journalists, saying "a free press is not a choice, but a necessity."