Washington – Following the Kremlin’s example, a global increase in disinformation and propaganda has a catastrophic effect on independent news around the world, a new report shows.
In its 2022 The World Press Freedom Index was released on TuesdayThe Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has contributed enormously to the spread of fake news and propaganda.
Journalism The Watchdog group said its findings are worrying, as they show deep divisions between media within countries and between countries at the international level.
“In 2022, it’s really undeniable that media polarization and information chaos are really fueling social divisions in ways that are fairly new,” Clayton Weimers, deputy director of RSF for the United States, told VOA. He said that the spread of party political news around the world has come at the expense of authentic journalism.
The the group’s annual report ranks 180 countries based on the environment for independent journalism. This year, however, the RSF said they used a new method that mixes each country’s political, legal, economic, socio-cultural and security conditions.
The index now classifies a record 28 countries as “having very poor media freedom.” That group includes China, which exports censorship outside its borders while reinforcing the Kremlin’s propaganda about Russia’s devastating war against Ukraine.
World Press Freedom Index 2022 by countries and territories, according to Reporters Without Borders
Russia, China among the worst
Since its invasion of Ukraine on February 24, Russia has sought total control of the news coverage and passed a new law that provides 15 years in prison for reporting “fake news” about the military, and even bans calling the conflict a “war.”
It has forced most of the remaining independent news outlets, including the famous Novaya Gazeta newspaper, Ekho Moskvy radio and Dozhd TV, to shut down or relocate outside Russia to continue their operations.
With independent votes absent, experts say, the Russian government has been able to flood state ethers with propaganda that downplays the war and spreads false or misleading justifications for the Kremlin’s invasion.
Russia’s media repression is in 155 of the 180 countries included in the RSF’s index, where one is the deadline and 180 the least.
“It is safe to say at this point that the free press is a thing of the past in Russia,” Clayton said.
“Throughout Russia’s President Vladimir Putin’s 22 years in power, Moscow has targeted journalists and the independent press,” he said.
“But since the invasion of Ukraine, it seems that Putin has really ended the independent media once and for all in Russia,” Clayton said. “At this time, it is impossible to accurately report on the war in Ukraine.”
China ranked 175th in the new report. And now that it’s strongly under Beijing’s influence, Hong Kong also recorded a dramatic decline, ranking 148th out of 180 after a long line of raids and arrests that put an end to democracy news sites.
The RSF’s national archives of China say it is the world’s largest journalist prison guard, with 120 detainees. The regime uses coercion, harassment, threats and surveillance to prevent independent and foreign journalists from reporting on issues considered “sensitive”.
“President Xi Jinping, in power since 2013, has restored a media culture worthy of the Maoist era, where free access to information has become a crime and providing information an even greater crime.” RSF’s country file indicates.
North Korea is still the worst country in the ranking of 180th place. Elsewhere in the Asia-Pacific region, political unrest, conflict, and growing authoritarianism have wiped out years of progress.
The 2021 coup in Myanmar marked a 10-year setback for media rights, with journalists imprisoned, media licenses revoked and many news outlets returning in exile. During the military junta, Myanmar, in 176th place, is one of the world’s largest journalist prisoners.
In Afghanistan, Taliban insurgents promised to maintain press freedom when they took power in August 2021. Instead, the RSF said that “the Taliban’s takeover has further worsened conditions for reporters and news organizations, which are targets for all forms of threats and violence.” Afghanistan placed 154th.
Across Africa, laws criminalizing online journalism have given the right to information a new impetus, says RSF, while the spread of rumors, propaganda and misinformation has contributed to undermining access to quality information.
In Ethiopia, the war in the Tigray region, with its communication disruption and limited access, were the main factors that placed the country 114 on the index. Neighboring countries Eritrea and Djibouti are much worse and rank near the bottom of 179 and 164 respectively.
African media continue to struggle financially, RSF said in its accompanying analysis.
Cameroonian journalists deny separatists and military atrocities on Freedom of the Press Day
“Despite a wave of liberalization in the 1990s, there are still, all too often, cases of arbitrary censorship, especially on the internet, with temporary network shutdowns in some countries, arrests of journalists and violent attacks,” the group said.
Clayton said that increasing authoritarianism feeds on itself.
“When we allow a culture of impunity to exist where authorities are allowed to go after journalists, harass them, arrest them, beat them in the streets and kill them, it has a contagious effect,” he said. “It encourages the same authoritarian to do it again next time, and it encourages other authoritarians who are looking to do the same.”
USA not perfect
After a period of seeing its media attacked as “fake news” by former President Donald Trump, the United States maintained a relatively high ranking of 42 in the RSF’s index. This is largely due to the return of regular press conferences from the White House and federal authorities.
But the RSF said the problems remain, including “the disappearance of local newspapers, the systematic polarization of the media and the erosion of digital platform journalism in the midst of a climate of hostility and aggression against journalists, among others.”
Barriers exist, for example, when it comes to covering state governments and protests.
“We usually see that this is either due to a blatant disregard for the laws governing open registers or meetings, or they simply misinterpret them. An individual misinterprets whether a journalist can be present at a particular event,” said Beth Francesco, director of National Press Club Journalism Institute.
Some bright spots
Despite an overall downturn, Clayton said there are positive sides.
Some governments provide funding to the news media without interfering in their activities, to ensure independence from political influence.
“If you look at the top of our list, some of the things that stand out are that these are countries that have robust public funding for the media,” he said, noting that “it is always important to separate state funding for media and state-controlled media. ‘
Three Scandinavian countries – Norway, Denmark and Sweden – end up at the top of the RSF’s index. Estonia, a former Soviet republic, was ranked 4th.
The RSF said that the free exercise of journalism plays an important role in emerging democracies such as East Timor, ranked 17, Bhutan, ranked 33, and Mongolia, ranked 90.
East Timor was a country whose rankings soared and increased by 54 places. But the RSF warned that due to its method change this year, “one should be careful when comparing the 2022 rankings and scores with those from 2021.”
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