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Friday, July 12, 2024 | Back issues
Courthouse News Service Courthouse News Service

Press Freedom Index Puts Arab Spring Under Scrutiny

(CN) - The Arab Spring has not yet lived up to its pro-democracy aims when it comes to freedom of the press, the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders reported Wednesday.

After the cascade of revolutions known in the Arab world caused upheavals in Reporters Without Borders' annual ranking of press freedom in countries around the world, the Paris-based group announced that 2012 represented "a return to a more usual configuration."

The group's 2013 Press Freedom Index lists countries based on an overall ranking, as well as the number of places each country has risen or fallen from last year's index.

"Some of the new governments spawned by these protests movements have turned on the journalists and netizens who covered these movements' demands and aspirations for more freedom," the index states. "What with legal voids, arbitrary appointments of state media chiefs, physical attacks, trials and a lack of transparency, Tunisia (138th, -4) and Egypt (158th, +8) have remained at a deplorable level in the index and have highlighted the stumbling blocks that Libya (131st, +23) should avoid in order to maintain its transition to a free press."

Two years after Hosni Mubarak's ouster, Egypt demonstrated "slight improvement" by climbing eight spots, but the country's new political structure bodes poorly for journalists, the report states.

"Shortly after winning elections, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed new executives and editors to run the state newspapers, which had a major impact on their editorial policies," the report states. "The constitution adopted at the end of 2012 contains vaguely-worded provisions that clearly threaten freedoms. News media can still be closed or seized on the orders of a judge."

A year after the overthrow of strongmen Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisia's press rankings initially soared 30 spots, but those gains have been threatened by developments last year, the advocacy group found.

"[Tunisian] authorities have maintained a judicial void by delaying the implementation of decree-laws regulating the media," the report states. "This allowed them to arbitrarily appoint people to run the state-owned media. Furthermore, politicians often refer to journalists and news media with contempt or even hate."

Likewise, Libya sharply climbed 23 places after last year's revolution, but the advocacy group noted that Libya currently lacks the legal structure to protect those gains.

Syria, which has brutally opposed protests to oust Bashar al-Assad, remained the fourth worst country to be a journalist, while the Bahraini government's eight-spot rise to 165th on the list reflects its having slightly relented on a similar violent crackdown

The best- and worst-ranked countries held steady on this year's index, with Finland, Netherlands and Norway hanging on to the top spots and Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea remaining the worst places in the world to be a journalist.

A reclassification by Reporters Without Borders caused Israel to plummet 20 spots on the list.

In previous years, the advocacy group created different categories for "Israel (Israeli Territory)" and "Israel (Extra-territorial)," with the former dramatically outranking the latter.

This year's report combines those two categories as "Israel" and upgrades "Palestinian Territories" to "Palestine."

Reporters Without Borders made no statement about whether it made this change in response to the United Nations vote to upgrade Palestine's status late last year.

The United States regained some of the ground it lost last year, when its rating dropped 27 places to a tie with Romania due to the suppression of the Occupy Wall Street movement.

As public protest has largely faded, the U.S. now holds the 32nd spot on the list, above Lithuania.

Meanwhile, the repression of student protests in Canada that have been called "Maple Spring" brought the country down to 20th place, a 100 percent drop from its former position.

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