This is why the media in the UK and the US isn't apparently as 'free' as it used to be
An obsession with surveillance and attacks on the media by anti-establishment politicians are responsible for a declining state of media freedom in democratic countries such as the UK, according to new findings.
Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted the danger of a “tipping point” in the state of media freedom in leading democracies as it published the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.
The UK is regarded as having less press freedom than a year ago, dropping two places in the ranking to 40th position out of 180 countries.
RSF cited reasons such as the confiscation of Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim’s passport by border officials when she landed at London Heathrow last September and the passing of the Investigatory Powers Act.
Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau Director, said: “We witnessed a disturbing trend of moves against press freedom in the UK this year, from the seizure of a Syrian journalist’s passport, to the adoption of the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history that could effectively serve as a death sentence for investigative journalism.”
The Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the “snoopers’ charter”, was made law in late 2016 and branded “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.
The legislation allows intelligence officials and police to hack, access and obtain the public’s personal communications data, from browser history to private messages – something many media organisations fear poses a threat to journalists and their sources.
While the Government revised the Bill to incorporate “additional protections for journalists, removing an exemption for the security and intelligence agencies when seeking to identify journalists' sources”, RSF said that it still “lacks sufficient protection mechanisms”.
RSF also claimed the worsening press freedom situation was partly because political “strongmen are on the rise”.
The report noted the “high-profile media bashing” of the EU referendum campaign, stating: “Attacks on the media, especially the BBC, were the pillar of [Nigel] Farage's Brexit campaign.”
The former Ukip leader told ITV's Piers Morgan's Life Stories that the media has “attempted to demonise me and give me a bad name” for years.
He also criticised the BBC after the referendum, telling LBC listeners the broadcaster failed to report the news of the Leave result with “objectivity”.
Similarly, Donald Trump's anti-media discourse was attributed to the US dropping two places to 43rd in the ranking of 180 countries.
The report said: “The election of the 45th president of the United States set off a witch-hunt against journalists.”
Trump has repeatedly denounced media outlets as “fake news” and accused them of being “among the most dishonest human beings on Earth”. RSF said the move compromises “a long US tradition of defending freedom of expression”.
Other democracies under press freedom threat according to the list include Turkey ranking at 155th – where the failed coup in July 2016 lead to the arrests of more than 100 journalists – and France which has risen six places to 39th since 2016, as the country recovers from the Charlie Hebdo massacre. But it still faces attacks from politicians, with presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen accusing the media of “delirious lies” in her autobiography.
RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that, if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed.”
The country ranked the worst for media freedom is North Korea, while the country ranked highest is Norway.