Egypt among worst countries for media freedom amid 'drastic' global downturn: Watchdog

Ahram Online , Thursday 12 Feb 2015

Egypt ranks 158th out of 180 countries surveyed by Reporters Without Borders

Egypt has one of the worst levels of press freedom worldwide according to watchdog Reporters Without Borders, which ranked the country 158th out of 180 surveyed in its annual World Press Freedom Index.

Egypt came above seven other Middle Eastern countries, including Saudi Arabia, Syria and Iran, in the index. In the 2014 index, Egypt was rated 159th out of 180 countries.

In its annual round-up, published last December, the group said that 46 journalists were arrested in Egypt in 2014, making it the second in the world for the number of journalist arrests.

The arrests, the group says, stemmed from allegations including support for the now-banned Muslim Brotherhood group, endangering national unity, or inciting violence.

Earlier this month, the group said that 15 journalists were currently detained in Egypt, following the release of Peter Greste, an Australian Al Jazeera reporter who was freed on 1 February after over a year in jail in a case that stirred wide international criticism.

Two other Al Jazeera journalists who were convicted alongside Greste of supporting a terrorist group and spreading false news, were released on bail on Thursday.  Mohamed Fahmy and Baher Mohamed face a retrial beginning later this month.

‘Drastic decline’ in press freedom worldwide

There has been a “drastic decline," in press freedom worldwide in 2014, partly due to increasing threats from extremist groups, the NGO stated Thursday in their annual report.

The report attributes a global downturn in freedom of information in 2014 to mounting threats from non-state groups--including Islamic State, Boko Haram and the Italian mafia--violent protests and the economic crisis.

All parties in conflicts rocking the Middle East and the Ukraine waged "a fearsome information war" where media personnel, often used to broadcast propaganda, were directly targeted, assaulted or silenced, the report stated.

The report also decried information "black holes" in the Middle East and North Africa, saying that in some cases "entire regions are controlled by non-state groups in which independent information simply does not exist.”

The Islamic State group which seized territory in Syria and Iraq, Boko Haram in northern Nigeria and Cameroon, the Italian mafia and drug traffickers in Latin America all used "fear and reprisals to silence journalists and bloggers who dare to investigate or refuse to act as their mouthpieces," said the watchdog, known by its French initials RSF.

The press watchdog’s 2015 ranking puts North Korea, Syria, Sudan, China and Iran among the worst ten states for press freedom out of the 180 evaluated.

Kuwait and Lebanon fared better than most Arab countries, coming 90th and 98th respectively.

Northern European states were amongst the best-ranked nations with Finland topping the list for the fifth successive year, followed by Norway and Denmark. The Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand, and Canada also made it into the top ten.

But some European countries trailed behind, with Italy falling 24 places to 73rd position due to mounting mafia threats and "unjustified defamation suits."

The United States ranked 49th, down three spots from the previous report in part due to what RSF said was the US administration's "war on information" against WikiLeaks and others.

Libya dropped 17 places to the 154th position because of political tumult since the ouster of longtime autocrat Muammar Gaddafi, which has seen seven journalists murdered and 37 kidnapped. 

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