World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders

Tuesday 22 August 2023

Tomasz Konopka 
Soltysinski Kawecki & Szlezak, Warsaw

This report primarily highlights the immediate and very concerning threats that the fake content industry with artificial intelligence technology, as well as political and social upheavals, poses to journalism around the world.

In this study, 180 countries and territories were examined. General results are negative. It was found that 31 countries are in a ‘very serious state’, 42 in ‘difficult’, 55 in ‘problematic’ and only 52 in a ‘good’ or a ‘satisfactory’ state, which means that the environment for journalism is poor in seven out of ten countries.

In two thirds of countries, responders pointed to the fact that political actors were often systematically involved in disinformation or propaganda campaigns. This is especially concerning when we take into account technological advancement, which enables an unprecedented ability to tamper with information.

In the social media sphere, one of the main platforms from which people gather information, especially about current events and politics, is Twitter. It is now owned by Elon Musk, whose reforms are extreme and are pushing Twitter to be arbitrary and with a payment-based approach, making it a quicksand for journalists.

Regional and state case summary

It is worth noting that the three last places in the ranking are occupied by Asian countries: Vietnam, China and North Korea. China, still declining in the ranking, has the largest number of reporters and commentators imprisoned and ‘specialises’ in state-favouring propaganda.

Another country, which is increasing its propaganda, is Russia, ranked 164th. It is especially trying to influence Ukrainians living in the southern part of Ukraine, as a part of its war efforts. Simultaneously, the last remaining independent journalistic outlets in Russia are facing severe consequences, such as being banned, blocked or declared ‘foreign agents’.

Also, the United States, ranked 45th, has fallen three places in the ranking. Due to responders, it is because of the legal framework especially at the local level and widespread violence (such as the two murders of journalists in 2022 and 2023), which still take place despite the Biden administration’s efforts. Mexico, ranked 128th, has the highest number of missing journalists – 28 in 20 years.

The situation has gone from ‘problematic’ to ‘very bad’ in India and Turkey. In India the decline is being linked to a media takeover by oligarchs close to Prime Minister Modi. In Turkey, President Erdogan is blamed for persecuting journalists in the run-up to the elections. In the Middle East and North Africa, many journalists go missing or are held hostage, and as we continue, countries like Syria, Yemen and Iraq are ranked at the very bottom of the ranking. Afghanistan, after the Taliban takeover, has now close to zero women journalists. Some of the biggest falls in the ranking concern Africa, namely: Senegal, because of criminal charges which were brought against two journalists and the sharp decline in safety for media (a 31-place fall); Tunisia, where authoritarianism is strengthening and the media is unable to criticise the government (a 27-place fall); but also Peru (a 33-place fall); and Haiti, due to a continuous decline in security (a 29-place fall). In Africa, nearly 40 per cent of countries are classified as harmful for journalists, with Sahel becoming known for being a ‘no-news zone’, due to almost no independent journalists being able to work there at all. Several murders of journalists were carried out in the region, including in Cameroon and Eritrea.

The Asia-Pacific region has some of the worst regimes for free press. Myanmar, after its military coup in 2021, is the world’s second country in terms of the number of jailed reporters.

On the positive side of the spectrum, Norway was found to be the most journalism-friendly country for the seventh year in a row.

The European Union is described as the world’s best place for journalists to work, with the most visible exception being Greece, where journalists have been spied on by intelligence services.