UK still one of worst-ranked Western European countries for press freedom as journalist deaths rise globally

Person wearing a press jacket on the ground
Fréa Lockley

The 2018 report from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on “journalists killed, detained, held hostage, or missing” found a global rise in “violence and abusive treatment” against people working in the media. The number of journalists killed or jailed rose for the third year running. Meanwhile, the UK kept “its status as one of the worst-ranked Western European countries in the World Press Freedom Index”.

Unprecedented “violence against journalists”

The annual global report found that, in 2018, 80 journalists were killed, “348 are currently in prison, and 60 are being held hostage”. RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire called the situation “critical”, because “violence against journalists has reached unprecedented levels”. He also said:

The hatred of journalists that is voiced, and sometimes very openly proclaimed, by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists.

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The 2018 figures show an 8% rise in the number of journalists killed, and “more than half” were targeted deliberately.

2018 World Press Freedom Index and the UK’s ranking

Alongside analysis of violence against journalists, RSF also published its annual World Press Freedom Index. This reflects the “media independence and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists” in 180 countries, alongside abuses towards journalists.

For the second year running, the UK ranked 40. This makes it “one of the worst-ranked Western European countries”. RSF reported a “continued heavy-handed approach” towards the UK press. One of the key reasons is the ongoing use of the 2016 Investigatory Powers Act. According to RSF, this is “the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history—with insufficient protection mechanisms for whistleblowers, journalists, and their sources”.

In 2013, the UK was ranked 29 in the index. It has dropped every year since then.

Deadliest countries

RSF reported that Afghanistan is the “world’s deadliest country for journalists”, followed by Syria and Mexico. This once again makes Mexico “the deadliest country outside a conflict zone”, as The Canary has previously reported. Just five countries – China, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Egypt, and Turkey – imprisoned over half the journalists currently in jail. 60 of those held are in China.

The murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi dominated global headlines in 2018. But the RSF report also drew attention to a global rise of journalists who were “deliberately targeted because their reporting threatened the interests of certain people in positions of political, economic, or religious power or organized crime”. These deaths accounted for 49 of the journalists killed, or 61% of the total. The fatal shootings of Yaser Murtaja and Ahmed Abu Hussein – both deliberately targeted while covering the Great Return March in Palestine – reflected another concern for journalists reporting in areas of known conflict.

Featured image via screengrab

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    1. From the RSF report on th UK:

      “Both the Conservative and Labour parties restricted journalists’ access to campaign events ahead of the June 2017 general election, and BBC political editor Laura Kuenssberg received extensive online abuse and threats, resulting in her being assigned bodyguards to cover the Labour Party conference.”

      I’m sure the Canary is appalled at these occurrences.

    2. The government of Britain has been making constant threats at RT, Theresa May has bragged of kicking Press TV off the air, and Telesur has struggled to keep its UK audience on air, and Julian Assange is still being arbitrarily detained and has his life threatened if he steps out of the Ecuadorian embassy because we know when that happens the UK will detain and send him to the US where he’ll be in jail for life or killed. How not member of Parliament, how Jeremy Corbyn himself has not raised his voice in defense of Assange is mindboggling to say the least and very sobering.

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