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US and UK fail to make top of country rankings for press freedom

Tom Belger
Finance and policy reporter
The UK ranks 33rd in a global league table of press freedom. Photo: Richard Gray/EMPICS Entertainment

“The News Media in our Country is FAKE and in many cases, totally CORRUPT!” wrote US president Donald Trump earlier this month in a tweet liked 58,000 times.

It marked the end of a bleak year for relations between the media and the US government. Under former presidents, such an accusation would have been extraordinary, sparking major controversy.

But Trump’s diatribes against the media have been so regular they are now an expected, almost normalised aspect of politics under the current administration. They are widely seen to have fomented distrust and anger towards news outlets.

They have helped push the US down a global league table of press freedom, with the country only ranked 45th best in 2018 and sliding three places to 48th in 2019.

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The 2019 World Press Freedom Index was compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RWB), and based on both a survey of experts and any incidents of abuses.

Britain also only ranked 33rd best in the 2019 World Press Freedom Index, making it one of the worst-ranked western European countries on the list.

Norway ranked top of the table, followed by Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands and Denmark. Turkmenistan ranked at the bottom, followed by North Korea, Eritrea, China and Vietnam.

Press freedom in the US

RWB said press freedom had “continued to decline” in Trump’s second year in office.

“Rhetorical attacks from the government and private individuals alike grew increasingly hostile,” it said.

It highlighted a shooting at the Capital Gazette local newsroom in Maryland in June, with four journalists and another staff member killed in a targeted attack.

Other newsrooms have seen bomb threats and suspicious packages, forcing outlets to rethink staff security and at least one White House reporter to hire private guards after receiving death threats.

RWB also highlighted record-length bans from White House briefings for certain outlets, with one reporter’s press pass revoked.

Press freedom in the UK

The UK moved up seven places on the list, but RWB highlighted a “heavy-handed” approach towards the media particularly in the name of national security.

It criticised counter-terrorism and crime legislation, saying they offered inadequate protection for whistleblowers, journalists and their data and put source confidentiality at risk.

The arrest of two journalists and confiscation of their materials as part of a police probe into the Loughinisland massacre in Northern Ireland also concerned the RWB.

The index analyses a wide range of issues, from independence and legislation to levels of violence to pluralism in representing diverse views.

Top 10 countries for media freedom

  1. Norway

  2. Finland

  3. Sweden

  4. Netherlands

  5. Denmark

  6. Switzerland

  7. New Zealand

  8. Jamaica

  9. Belgium

  10. Costa Rica

Bottom 10 countries for media freedom

  1. Turkmenistan

  2. North Korea

  3. Eritrea

  4. China

  5. Vietnam

  6. Sudan

  7. Syria

  8. Djibouti

  9. Saudi Arabia

  10. Laos