2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) illustrates how hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, contributing to an increase in fear. The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.
“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”
Norway is ranked first in the 2019 Index for the third year running while Finland (up two places) has taken second place from the Netherlands (down one at 4th), where two reporters who cover organized crime have had to live under permanent police protection. An increase in cyber-harassment caused Sweden (third) to lose one place.
Russia went down one at 149th, where the Kremlin has used arrests, arbitrary searches and draconian laws to step up the pressure on independent media and the Internet.
At the bottom of the Index, both Vietnam (176th) and China (177th) have fallen one place, Eritrea (up 1 at 178th) is third from last, despite making peace with its neighboring Ethiopia, and Turkmenistan (down two at 180th) is now last, replacing North Korea (up one at 179th).
A considerable blow to the freedom of press was added in France: during the manifestations of Yellow Vests reporters were confronted with police violence.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns the distressing simulation of Russian exile journalist Arkady Babchenko’s murder, which was done with the aim of unmasking those who wanted to kill him, the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU) claimed today.
A day after he was reportedly gunned down at the entrance to his Kiev apartment building, Babchenko was very much alive when he appeared at a press conference organized by the SBU today in Kiev.
He said he was told a month ago that Russia’s Federal Security Service (FSB) was planning to kill him and he had no choice but to cooperate in the SBU’s simulation of his death. He apologized to members of his family who were not in the know.
SBU chief Vasil Gritsak said that, thanks to this operation, they were able to arrest the Ukrainian citizen who was recruited by the FSB to organize Babchenko’s murder, and to prevent the deaths of 30 other persons who were in the sights of the Russian authorities.
“This journalist’s reappearance is a great relief but it was distressing and regrettable that the Security Service of Ukraine played with the truth,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Was such a scheme really necessary? There can be no grounds for faking a journalist’s death.”
According to reports confirmed yesterday by the Ukrainian police, the 41-year-old journalist died while being rushed to hospital from the injuries he received when he was shot three times in the back as he was returning to his Kiev apartment.
An outspoken critic of the Russian government since its annexation of Crimea in 2014, Babchenko has often received death threats on social networks. Fearing for his safety after Russian state TV channels launched a campaign against him, he fled to Prague in February 2017 but moved to Kiev a few months later and has been hosting a programme there on the Tatar TV channel ATR since last October.
Ukraine is ranked 101st out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2018 World Press Freedom Index.