Report: Press Freedom Reaches Critical Low

Published: 03 May 2023

Freedom of Press Speech Press freedom around the world is being undermined by new challenges. (Photo: Narih Lee, Flickr, License)

By Josef Skrdlik

Press freedom has reached a critical low in a record number of countries as repressive governments continue to clamp down on critical voices and the fake content industry continues to expand, according to the World’s Press Freedom Index published on Wednesday on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day.

The number of countries where the media situation was assessed as “very serious” increased to 31 from 28 last year and 21 in 2021 and came out as unsatisfactory in 70% of the countries in total.

Some of the biggest slumps were observed in Kyrgyzstan, which fell by 55 places due to the government’s blockage of several independent media platforms, and in Senegal, which fell by 31 places after criminal charges were brought against two journalists – defying its reputation as an island of freedom in West Africa.

“This instability is the result of increased aggressiveness on the part of the authorities in many countries and growing animosity towards journalists on social media and in the physical world,” said Christophe Deloire, the Secretary General of Reporters Without Reporters, which compiles the annual index.

As in previous years, Europe offers the best conditions for independent reporting, while the Middle East and North Africa continue to be the most hostile region for journalists.

The five worst performers include Turkmenistan, Iran, Vietnam, China and North Korea, with China winning as the biggest jailor of journalists.

That said, there were also some improvements.

Brazil notably climbed up by 18 places after the departure of Jair Bolsonaro, whose administration was notoriously hostile to journalists. The government change also improved the media situation in Malaysia, which jumped by 40 places in the ranking.

Among the new threats to media freedom, the report highlighted the rapid development of artificial intelligence, which is to be “wreaking further havoc on the media world.”

It also criticized Elon Musk’s management of Twitter, which he acquired last year, saying that he is “pushing an arbitrary, payment-based approach to information to the extreme, showing that platforms are quicksand for journalism.”

In a separate statement, the International Federation of Journalists said that “press freedom has taken another step backwards,” highlighting threats such as the rise of digital surveillance and widespread spying and increased use of strategic lawsuits against public participation known as SLAPPs.