World Press Freedom Index – SA down, US up

Recently got myself a whole lot of Adbuster magazines on the Community Exchange System. Some great reading. One article (from 2003) gives me some more insight into the demise of press freedom in the US. I’d noticed that the US dropped quite rapidly in the World Press Freedom Index in 2003 (below South Africa!), but have never really known the details, beyond broadly blaming the Bush and his corporate buddies milking the 2001 attacks.

What actually happened was the US Federal Communication Commission loosened media ownership laws (thanks to corporate lobbying, 2500 freebie trips for FCC officials, and basing its decision upon data generated by the very companies it’s supposed to be regulating). So, Rupert Murdoch is allowed to own 3 TV stations, 8 radio stations, a newspaper and a cable system in one city.

However, as I was preparing to write this post, I realised the 2004 World Press Freedom Index had been released, unnoticed by me. The US has improved, from 6 to 4 (0 is perfection), and up from 31 to 22 in country ranking. Fascination for the US notwithstanding, what about the situation in South Africa? Sadly South Africa has dropped, from 3.33 to 5, and from 21 to 26 in the country ranking. I know it’s nonsense, but I feel a kind of jingoistic pride at being able to brag at beating the US. Sadly no more. SA is still well ahead of the United Kingdom and Australia though.

Unfortunately, I don’t know the details of the changes in the ratings. The report mentions violations of the privacy of sources, persistent problems in granting press visas and the arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations as keeping the United States (22nd) away from the top of the list, but no mention of its improvements over last year. I am aware though that the FCC got 750 000 comments, and 300 000 people contacted Congress in protest in 2003, so perhaps the people did have a say after all.

As for South Africa, there’s also no mention of the reasons for its drop. Perhaps the demise of This Day? There’ve been no other major changes in the media environment I’m aware of.

Africa in general sees some good improvements, with South Africa (26th), Benin (27th), Cape Verde (38th), Namibia (42nd), Mauritius (46th), Botswana (50th), Mali (56th) and Ghana (57th) listed as traditionally respecting free press. Togo (75th) improves 20 places after ending arbitrary arrests of journalists and decriminalizing press offences. Angola (91st) also shows steady improvement. Bottom of the pile in Africa are Eritrea, Zimbabwe, Libya, Tunisia and Côte d’Ivoire. There’s been quite an improvement at the top of the rankings too, with 8 countries now joint top on 0.5: Denmark, Ireland, Slovakia and Switzerland join 2003’s leaders Finland, Iceland, Netherlands and Norway. Only three of the top 20 are outside Europe: New Zealand, Canada (showing a big drop because of a police raid on a journalist’s home, and a stand against Al-Jazeera and a local station) and Trinidad and Tobago.

For the wealthier countries, China remains low, as does Singapore.

Perhaps it’s time for me to finally start my independent newspaper. Anybody have a spare R100 million?