A report released Thursday concludes disdain for journalists throughout the world has increased during the past year, due primarily to the behavior of authoritarian leaders.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index report, conducted by Reporters Without Borders, said “authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media,” resulting in a “hatred of journalists” that has “degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear.”
The United States’ ranking in the annual index of press freedom declined for the third time in three years, a result of U.S. President Donald Trump’s regular threats to reporters and his inflammatory remarks about the media, the report said.
The U.S. ranked 48th among the 180 nations and territories that were surveyed, maintaining a descent that started in 2016. For the first time since the report started in 2002, the United States was included in a category of countries where the treatment of journalists is described as “problematic.”
The report said while a deterioration of the press freedom climate in the U.S. predated Trump’s presidency, the first year of his time in office “has fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report.” The report cited Trump’s repeated declarations of the news media as an “enemy of the American people,” attempts to deny White House access to “multiple media outlets,” regular use of the term “fake news” in retaliation to critical reporting, and calls to revoke the broadcasting licenses of “certain media outlets.”
It noted that hatred toward reporters prompted a gunman to murder four journalists and another employee last June at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland just east of Washington. The gunman had mental health issues and was angry with the newspaper for reporting about his pleading guilty to criminal harassment in 2011. “Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments, President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level,” the report said.
European countries once again occupied most of the spots at the top of the index. Norway topped the list for the third consecutive year, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. The United Kingdom ranked 33rd, rising seven spots since last year. But the report said the U.K. “remained one of the worst-performing countries in Western Europe,” noting its more favorable ranking was due to the sharp deterioration of press freedom in other countries.
The countries at the bottom of the list were dominated by Asian countries. Turkmenistan ranked 180, topped by North Korea, Eritrea, China and Vietnam in ascending order.
The Americas experienced the most pronounced regional deterioration worldwide, primarily due to the decline of the U.S., Brazil, Mexico, Nicaragua and Venezuela.
The European Union and the Balkans registered the second largest regional deterioration, followed by the Middle East, Africa, Eastern Europe and Central Asia and the Asia-Pacific.
The findings are based on responses to an 87-question survey that assesses pluralism, media independence and censorship in each country. Government policy was not evaluated. Responses were provided by media representatives, sociologists and attorneys around the world. Their feedback was integrated into a database of reported abuses and violent acts against journalists.
To access the report in its entirety, visit https://rsf.org/en/ranking_table.