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Wednesday, 21 October 2009

Press Freedom - Israel Ranks Behind Lebanon, Kuwait & United Arab Emirates!

Well what would know? Remember Israel's boast? The only democracy in the Middle East. It would seem, however that the shine has somewhat come of that boast. In fact it is looking quite tarnished. Reporters Without Borders have just compiled the rankings for the 2009 Press Freedom Index and Israel comes in at 150!

The Middle East's only democracy has fallen behind Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Lebanon.

But before you all cry 'anti-Semitism' (yes I know how your minds work!) just relax. You will be pleased to know that Israel has at least beaten Russia, Tunisia, Syria, Equatorial Guinea, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Iran, Burma and North Korea!! It has even beaten Abbas's fiefdom in Ramallah, which came in at no. 161.

This is how Reports sans Frontieres described their decision and below is Ha'aretz's take on the issue.

Obama effect in US, while Europe continues to recede
Israel in free fall, Iran at gates of infernal trio


“Press freedom must be defended everywhere in the world with the same energy and the same insistence,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Jean-Fran├žois Julliard said today as his organisation issued its eighth annual world press freedom index.

“It is disturbing to see European democracies such as France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year,” Julliard said. “Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home? The Obama effect, which has enabled the United States to recover 16 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us.”

Reporters Without Borders compiles the index every year on the basis of questionnaires that are completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world. This year’s index reflects press freedom violations that took place between 1 September 2008 and 31 August 2009.

Europe no longer an example?

Europe long set an example in press freedom but several European nations have fallen significantly in this year’s index. Even if the first 13 places are still held by European countries, others such as France (43rd), Slovakia (44th) and Italy (49th) continue their descent, falling eight, 37 and five places respectively. In so doing, they have given way to young democracies in Africa (Mali, South Africa and Ghana) and the western hemisphere (Uruguay and Trinidad and Tobago).

Journalists are still physically threatened in Italy and Spain (44th), but also in the Balkans, especially Croatia (78th), where the owner and marketing director of the weekly Nacional were killed by a bomb on 23 October 2008.

But the main threat, a more serious one in the long term, comes from new legislation. Many laws adopted since September 2008 have compromised the work of journalists. One adopted by Slovakia (44th) has introduced the dangerous concept of an automatic right of response and has given the culture minister considerable influence over publications.

Israel: operation media crackdown

Operation Cast Lead, Israel’s military offensive against the Gaza Strip, had an impact on the press. As regards its internal situation, Israel sank 47 places in the index to 93rd position. This nose-dive means it has lost its place at the head of the Middle Eastern countries, falling behind Kuwait (60th), United Arab Emirates (86th) and Lebanon (61st).

Israel has begun to use the same methods internally as it does outside its own territory. Reporters Without Borders registered five arrests of journalists, some of them completely illegal, and three cases of imprisonment. The military censorship applied to all the media is also posing a threat to journalists.

As regards its extraterritorial actions, Israel was ranked 150th. The toll of the war was very heavy. Around 20 journalists in the Gaza Strip were injured by the Israeli military forces and three were killed while covering the offensive.

Iran at gates of infernal trio

Journalists have suffered more than ever this year in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad’s Iran. The president’s disputed reelection plunged the country into a major crisis and fostered regime paranoia about journalists and bloggers.

Automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists, mistreatment, journalists forced to flee the country, illegal arrests and imprisonment – such is the state of press freedom this year in Iran.

Already at the lower end of the rankings in previous years, Iran has now reached the gates of the infernal trio at the very bottom – Turkmenistan (173rd), North Korea (174th) and Eritrea (175th) – where the media are so suppressed they are non-existent.

Obama effect brings US back into top 20

The United States has climbed 16 places in the rankings, from 36th to 20th, in just one year. Barack Obama’s election as president and the fact that he has a less hawkish approach than his predecessor have had a lot to do with this.

But this sharp rise concerns only the state of press freedom within the United States. President Obama may have been awarded the Nobel peace prize, but his country is still fighting two wars. Despite a slight improvement, the attitude of the United States towards the media in Iraq and Afghanistan is worrying. Several journalists were injured or arrested by the US military. One, Ibrahim Jassam, is still being held in Iraq.

Israel ranks low for freedom of press, after Gaza war media ban
By Gili Eizkovitch

Israel placed No. 93 out of 175 countries on a 2009 international index of press freedom, released by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday.

The 2009 ranking meant Israeli lost its place as the top country for press freedom in the region, falling behind Kuwait at No. 60, Lebanon at No. 61 and the United Arab Emirates at No. 86.

Israel's dramatic drop - 47 spots since last year - came as a result of its press regulations dictated to international media during the Gaza offensive earlier this year.
"Israel has begun to use the same methods internally as it does outside its own territory," said Reporters Without Borders, adding that journalists had been arrested and imprisoned and that military censorship also posed a threat.

But as a result of actions during Israel's war against Hamas militants in the Gaza Strip in December and January, Reporters Without Borders ranked the country at No. 150 for its "extraterritorial actions."

"The toll of the war was very heavy. Around 20 journalists in the Gaza Strip were injured by the Israeli military forces and three were killed while covering the offensive," it said.

Meanwhile, RSF noted that press freedom has improved in the United States in the last year as the country jumped 20 places to No. 20.

The media watchdog said the assumption of the presidency by Barack Obama in January brought a new approach in Washington after eight years under President George W. Bush, while some European countries fell in the group's Press Freedom Index.

It expressed concerns about U.S. attitudes toward the media in Iraq and Afghanistan, where it said journalists had been injured or arrested by the U.S. military.

"President Obama may have been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, but his country is still fighting two wars," the group said. "Despite a slight improvement, the attitude of the United States towards the media in Iraq and Afghanistan is worrying."

The United States came in just behind Britain on the press freedom index of 175 countries, while China was at No. 168. Afghanistan No. 149 and Iraq at No. 145.

Reporters Without Borders noted that in the United States the House of Representatives this year backed legislation to allow journalists to protect their sources - it has not yet been voted on in the Senate - and the Obama administration had promised better access to public information.

The group said civil liberties were violated in the name of national security during the Bush era.

European countries hold the top 13 spots, led by Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden. France fell eight spots to No. 43, Slovakia dropped 37 places to No. 44 and Italy fell five spots to No. 49.

"Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home?" said Reporters Without Borders Secretary-General Jean-Francois Julliard.

Press freedom in France has been worsening for several years, the group said, with the authorities placing growing pressure on journalists to reveal sources and proposing legislation that could reduce their freedom.

In Italy, Reporters Without Borders said press freedom was being stifled by threats from the mafia and various lawsuits being brought or considered by Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi against news organizations.

At the bottom of the list were Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea "where media are so suppressed they are nonexistent," said Reporters Without Borders.

Iran dropped to No. 172 from No. 166, with Reporters Without Borders saying the disputed re-election of President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad had fostered a paranoia about journalists and bloggers.

"Automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists, mistreatment, journalists forced to flee the country, illegal arrests and imprisonment - such is the state of press freedom this year in Iran," the group said.

The ranking was compiled from hundreds of questionnaires completed by journalists and media experts around the world and reflecting press freedom violations that took place between Sept. 1, 2008 and Aug. 31, 2009. The exact number of questionnaires completed was not immediately available.

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