Despite what most people think, journalists in the United States do not have the highest level of media freedom in the world.
The best countries for working journalists are Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway and Switzerland.
The worst places, the "black holes" where freedom of the press is the most restrictive, are North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Burma, Libya and Cuba.
These recent conclusions are from the fourth annual World Press Freedom Index, conducted by Reporters Without Borders (RSF). The international watchdog agency based its rankings of 167 countries on 50 questions that were sent to 14 freedom of expression groups worldwide as well as to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists throughout the globe.
Examining the frequency and severity of actual violations involving journalists in each country for a one-year period (beginning Sept. 1, 2004), respondents rated the level of freedom enjoyed by members of the press in each nation.
According to RSF, the questionnaire measured "every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment).
"It (the Freedom Index) registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations. It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media (such as penalties for press offenses, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas and the existence of a regulatory body) and the behavior of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and the foreign press."
So what about freedom of the press in the United States? The Freedom Index ranks the U.S. at 44, far below Slovakia, Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Namibia, El Salvador, Bosnia and Herzegovina.
"The United States... fell more than 20 places," says RSF, "mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources. Canada (21st) also dropped several places due to decisions that weakened the privacy of sources and sometimes turned journalists into 'court auxiliaries.' France (30th) also slipped, largely because of searches of media offices, interrogations of journalists and introduction of new press offenses."
One surprising conclusion of the 2005 Freedom Index is that people in poorer countries do, in fact, share many of the same freedoms as those living in richer nations.
"The Index also contradicts the frequent argument by leaders of poor and repressive countries that economic development is a vital precondition for democracy and respect for human rights," explains RSF. …