Freedom of the press, map of the main threats to journalism in the world

By Alberto Senante (@asenante), Amnesty International collaborator,

Today, May 3, World Press Freedom Day is celebrated. In 1993 UNESCO chose this date to commemorate the Windhoek Declarationa summit that was held two years earlier in this city of Namibia and in which, with the encouragement of the United Nations, African media professionals claimed the need for free and plural journalism to promote modern and democratic societies.

But the threat to press freedom dates back many years. The Greek Plutarch, at the end of the 1st century, recounted in his work “Parallel Lives” that King Tigranes ordered the head of the courier who brought him bad news to be cut off, ensuring that since then no one dared to tell him the truth. Since then, despite the article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rightsestablishes that “Every individual has the right to freedom of opinion and expression.” as well as to spread information and opinions”by any means of expression, the truth is that today having a free press is still a chimera in much of the world.

The Russian Foreign Ministry announced the closure of the Moscow office of the German public broadcaster Deutsche Welle and the withdrawal of the accreditation of its staff, in retaliation for a German measure against the Russian state television RT. © AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko Jr.

The censorship map

Tigranes’ violent (and useless) reaction has continued to this day. According to the report presented by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), 24 journalists and collaborators have been murdered only throughout this year due to their work. Oksana Baulina, Ahmed Al-Nasser, Juan Carlos Muñiz, Olexandra Kuvshynova, Brent Renaud, Givanildo Oliveira, Jorge Luis Camero, or Mohiuddin Sarker. It hurts to type some of his names. And although in just two months seven informants have lost their lives in the war in Ukraine, Mexico continues to be the country where the most journalists have died so far this year. But this profession can cost you your life in countries as diverse as Brazil, Chad, Iran, Bangladesh, India or Haiti. Furthermore, also according to RSF, 362 journalists have woken up today, Press Freedom Day, in jail.

The world ranking of 180 countries establishing this organization points to the Nordic Norway, Denmark and Sweden as the three countries where the most freedom of the press is enjoyed. In contrast, the list of The most repressive countries is headed by North Korea, followed by Eritrea, Iran, Turkmenistan, Burma and China.

Map Freedom of the press in the world

Mexico, Ukraine, Russia, Afghanistan, El Salvador: where press freedom dies

  • Mexico. The Central American country holds the dubious title of being the most dangerous country in the world to be a journalist. More of 150 information professionals killed during this century, eight so far this year. The profile of the victims is clear: local editors who do not accept pressure and publish information critical of political and business power and organized crime.

    Only the collusion between these three powers, together with the police and judges, explains the almost total impunity for these crimesgiving wings to continue producing and thus allowing any critical voice against them to be silenced on many occasions.

    “I fear for my life”, the journalist told him Lourdes Maldonado to President López Obrador at a press conference, pointing out that the cause of his fears was also a member of his party. Three years later, she was shot to death at the door of her house.

  • Ukraine. The recurring quoteWhen war is declared, truth is the first casualty.”, by the English pacifist politician Arthur Ponsonby, has been verified once again with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Fake news, manipulated videos, statements that were denied by reality after a few hours, but above all with the murder of 7 journalists in just over two months of conflict.
  • Russia. Freedom of expression was already conspicuous by its absence before the start of the invasion of Ukraine, but it has undoubtedly intensified since then censorship imposed by the Putin government. Words like “war”, “invasion” or “attack” have been banned from talking about Russian military actions in the neighboring country. Social networks have been blocked and a new law has been approved that punishes “spreading false information” or “discrediting” the army with sentences of up to 15 years in prison. The result, Russia’s main Kremlin-independent media outlets have closed and more than 150 journalists, domestic and foreign, have fled the country.
  • Afghanistan. Despite assurances by the Taliban upon coming to power that they would respect freedom of expression, journalists, particularly those covering protests, have since been detained, threatened and beaten. Numerous female reporters and correspondents for Western media had to leave the country in the face of harassment. Just three months after the Taliban took over the country, they had shut down more than 200 media outlets. For its part, the Committee for the Safety of Afghan Journalists reported that, during the 12 months prior to November 2021, at least 12 journalists had been killed and 230 had been attacked.
  • The Savior. Although in 2022 no journalist was killed, the Central American country is another of the black spots of freedom of the press in the world due to the pressure, threats and defamation carried out by the Government. A situation of harassment certified in 2021 by the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), which indicated the harassment of 34 members of the digital newspaper The lighthouse with the clear purpose of preventing them from carrying out their work.

    Furthermore, last November it was revealed that the El Salvador used the Pegasus espionage system to monitor journalists from both El Faro and the portal El Gato Encerrado, as well as civil society activists.

Many journalists tried to flee Afghanistan after the arrival of the Taliban

Afghan journalist Asma Saeen, who works for TOLO TV, reports from the street in Kabul, Afghanistan, February 8, 2022. © AP Photo/Hussein Malla

The pandemic, an excuse to gag the press

According to the last Amnesty International Annual Reportat least 67 countries -among them, Cambodia, Egypt, United States, Pakistan Y Turkey– introduced in 2021 new laws limiting freedom of expression, association and assembly, freedoms without which the exercise of a free press is also impossible. Thus, with the excuse of contain the spread of false information about COVID-19different governments around the world created obstacles so that journalists could work without ties, also limiting the right of citizens to have truthful and plural information.

In China, Vietnam or Iran, among other countries, arrested and prosecuted people who had questioned the measures to stop the disease, or had simply given a different version to that of the authorities. What Zhang Zhanglawyer who acted as a citizen journalist reporting the beginning of the spread of the virus in Wuhan and that she was sentenced to four years in prison for it.

In Malaysiathe government issued a decree giving itself the power to silence any criticism under the pretext of preventing the spread of hoaxes about the coronavirus, while other countries directly blocked or restricted access to the Internet and social networks.

Zhang Zhan reported the start of the coronavirus in Wuhan and that she was sentenced to four years in prison for it

A pro-democracy activist holds banners bearing the image of Chinese citizen journalist Zhang Zhan outside the Chinese central government liaison office in Hong Kong. © AP Photo/Kin Cheung

Spain, laws that are obstacles

Spain ranked 32nd in Reporters Without Borders’ ranking of 180 countries on the conditions for reporting freely. Although the threats to this right are far from those we have seen in previous countries, they remain laws limiting press freedom.

Thus, the reform proposed by the government partners of the Citizen Security Law, rightly called Gag Law, does not eliminate worrying aspects for freedom of information such as infractions for publishing images of police actions. This and other provisions have served since 2015 to impose fines on journalists while reporting on demonstrations or protests.

In addition, Spanish legislation maintains the crimes of glorification of terrorism, offense against religious feelings or insults against the crown that limit the freedom of expression of all citizens, but in particular that of journalists. This allows them to be intimidated with complaints and, knowing this reality, they can enter into a spiral of self-censorship.

Julian Assange, the founder of Wikileaks, has been locked up for 10 years

Hundreds of people protest against the extradition of Julian Assange in central London. © Matrix /MediaPunch /IPX

Assange, the case that warns the world

If there is an individual case involving a threat to press freedom in the world, that’s definitely the one Julian Assange. Perhaps, in another fairer world, the founder of WikiLeaks would have won the Nobel Peace Prize after publishing thousands of documents revealing, among many other things, possible war crimes by the US military in the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan.

Nevertheless, Assange has spent the last 10 years locked up, first in the Embassy of Ecuador in London where he obtained asylum, and since April 2019 in a prison in the United Kingdom, where he awaits the decision on whether he will finally be extradited to the United States. In this country, the activist would be tried for the crime of espionage and could be sentenced to 175 years in prison. The fact that the CIA considered the possibility of kidnapping or assassinating him or that the conditions of his possible detention could turn out to be a form of torture seems to they will not prevent the British authorities from approving his extradition.

The documents that pointed to possible crimes by the United States were verified by prestigious international media such as The New Yok Times, Le Monde, Der Spiegel or El País. However, the only one who has had to face a complaint for them was the one who allowed them to meet… And this, in addition to punishing Assange, is above all a warning to the rest of the world press.

And it is that, almost 2,000 years after the scene described by Plutarch, there are still those who believe that by killing or imprisoning the messenger the reality that he told in his news disappears.

We would like to give thanks to the writer of this short article for this outstanding material

Freedom of the press, map of the main threats to journalism in the world