US, Israel and Argentina slip down World Press Freedom Index

Press freedom is in decline around the over as a consequence of political pressure, disinformation, suppression of independent media and harassment of journalists, according to the latest World Press Freedom Index.

The annual index is compiled by Reporters Without Borders, or RSF as it’s known by its French initials, an international nonprofit focussed on safeguarding the right to freedom of information.

The 2024 index, published on Friday, ranks 180 countries on the ability of journalists to report freely and independently from the ground.

It shows several major countries slipping down the ranking this year compared to 2023, including the US, Israel, Argentina and Afghanistan.

While the US has slipped ten places to rank 55th on account of its “problematic” press freedom situation, Israel has gone down four places to 101th.

Argentina has seen the steepest drop of 26 places to rank 66th owing to president Javier Milei’s open hostility to the media which “poses a disturbing new threat to the right to information in the country”.

The right-wing leader, elected in 2023, is “delivering attacks aimed at discrediting the media and journalists critical of his policies,” RSF said.

Mr Milei’s intentions “to close or privatise state-owned media and no longer fund community media”, it added, “would impoverish the news and information ecosystem”.

Criticising the United States, RSF said while press violations have fallen under president Joe Biden, “major structural barriers to press freedom persist in the country”. It raised concerns about laws aimed at limiting journalists’ “access to public spaces, including barring them from legislative meetings and preventing them from recording the police”.

The agency also took strong exception to Israel’s conduct after it launched its ongoing war on Gaza. “Pressure on journalists in Israel increased after it launched the war in Gaza on 7 October 2023,” RSF said.

Criticising the Israeli military’s killing of over 100 journalists in the Palestinian enclave, it said “disinformation campaigns and oppressive laws have multiplied in Israel” since the war began.

Palestine, occupied and under constant Israeli bombardment, is ranked 157th.

“When we lose a journalist, we lose our eyes and ears to the outside world. We lose a voice for the voiceless,” Volker Turk, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, said in a statement on Friday. “World Press Freedom Day was established to celebrate the value of truth and to protect the people who work courageously to uncover it.”

The trend of overall decline hasn’t spared even countries at the top of the World Press Freedom Index.

Norway stays in first place but the Scandinavian country has seen a fall in its political score. Ireland, where politicians have subjected the media to judicial intimidation, has ceded its second position in the European Union to Denmark and dropped to eighth place. Sweden is third.

At the other end, Afghanistan slipped from 152th place last year to 178th.

“The Taliban takeover of this country of 40 million people sounded the death knell for press freedom and the safety of journalists, particularly women journalists,” RSF said.

The bottom spots were taken by Syria and Eritrea.

Meanwhile, the United Kingdom jumped three places to 23rd even as its overall score declined by a point to 77.51. The worsening of the overall score is attributed to the attacks on Iranian journalists in exile in the UK, “lawsuits aimed at gagging journalists, widespread job cuts, and low public trust in media”, RSF said.

India improved its ranking by two spots to 159th. But it remains behind neighbours Pakistan and Sri Lanka, which are 152rd and 150th, respectively.

“With violence against journalists, highly concentrated media ownership, and political alignment, press freedom is in crisis in ‘the world’s largest democracy’, ruled since 2014 by prime minister Narendra Modi, leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party and embodiment of the Hindu nationalist right,” RSF said while raising concerns about the safety of journalists in the country.

Adding that India’s media has fallen into an “unofficial state of emergency” under Mr Modi, RSF said: “India is one of the world’s most dangerous countries for the media.”

“Journalists who are critical of the government are routinely subjected to online harassment, intimidation, threats and physical attacks, as well as criminal prosecutions and arbitrary arrests.”