Blighty ranks 38th in World Press Freedom Index
Finland tops league, Eritrea at bottom of table
The UK has ranked 38th in the 2016 World Press Freedom Index - a league table of "the degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries".
Topping the Reporters Without Borders (aka Reporters sans frontières, or RSF) index is Finland, followed by The Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand. China, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea languish at the bottom of the table.
Just how free journos are to go about their business is determined "by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF".
RSF elaborates: "This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria evaluated 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."
In the case of Blighty, it's rather disappointing showing is explained thus:
Terrorist attacks have led to the adoption of draconian security legislation. The government reacted to the London public transport bombings in 2005 with a Terrorism Act the following year that restricts freedom of expression. The Regulation of Investigatory Powers Act (RIPA) adopted in 2000 allows the authorities to obtain the phone records of journalists in cases of threats to national security. Worse still, despite a law protecting the confidentiality of sources, the police have since 1984 been able to ask the courts to order media outlets to hand over unpublished journalistic source material "in the interests of justice".
The US, meanwhile, comes in a tad behind the UK – in 41st place. RSF notes:
US media freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered a major obstacle – the government’s war on whistleblowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter-terrorism. Furthermore, US journalists are still not protected by a federal "shield law" guaranteeing their right not to reveal their sources and other confidential work-related information.
However, we hacks in nominal democracies have got it easy, if Eritrea is anything to go by:
For more than 20 years, Eritrea has been a dictatorship in which freely reported news and information has no place. At least 15 journalists are currently detained, some of them held incommunicado. Like everything else in Eritrea, the media are totally subject to the whim of President Issayas Afeworki, a predator of press freedom who has no plans to relax his grip. "Those who think there will be democracy in this county can think so in another world," he recently said. Eritrea has been ranked last in RSF's press freedom index for the past eight years.