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Peace, not economic prosperity, is the single biggest guarantee of press freedom worldwide in 2008, according to the annual World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

While parliamentary democracies not engaged in any war did well, others - including the U.S. and Israel - ranked less well, RSF said.

Peaceful, democratic countries in Europe dominate the top 20 of the 173-nation index, which compiles data for the year ended 1 September.

The situation remained critical in the world's most repressive countries, including North Korea and Turkmenistan, which RSF described as "unchanging hells in which the population is cut off from the world and is subjected to propaganda worthy of a bygone age."

Eritrea remained the country with the least press freedom in the world, with many journalists held incommunicado since 2001 by President Isaias Afewerki.

Although the U.S. rose from its 2007 position of 48th to 36th, it is 119th in the rankings of press freedom enjoyed outside its territory, a position blamed on the ongoing conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan.

RSF has written to U.S. presidential candidates Barack Obama and John McCain highlighting the need for more protection for reporters' confidential sources and better working conditions for reporters in areas under U.S. control in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Niger fell to the 130th spot from 87th in 2007 as a result of government attempts to suppress coverage of a rebellion in the north. Georgia ranks noticeably lower than in 2007, slipping 54 places to 120th in the aftermath of its war with Russia during the summer. Russia, where the trial of those accused of murdering investigative journalist Anna Politkovskaya started last week, was 141st in the index.

RSF criticised many of the world's leading democracies, claiming they were gradually eroding press freedoms by not doling out any serious repercussions, and added that many religious and political taboos were taking greater hold in countries that used to be advancing press freedom.

"The world's closed countries, governed by the worst press freedom predators, continue to muzzle their media at will, with complete impunity, while organisations such as the UN lose all authority over their members," RSF said. "The international community's conduct towards authoritarian regimes such as Cuba (169th) and China (167th) is not effective enough to yield results."

In contrast with the general decline, "there are economically weak countries that nonetheless guarantee their population the right to disagree with the government and to say so publicly," RSF said.

Some African countries fared better than in previous years, among them Namibia, Ghana and Mali. They rated better than Spain and Italy, which the report says have slipped because of political and Mafia interference. Similarly, emerging economies in the Caribbean, such as Jamaica and Costa Rica, scored much better than France, showing that prosperity was not a guarantee of better rights for the media.

RSF looks at a number of factors in drawing up its press freedom index, including the treatment of journalists, freedom of speech and information, and media ownership.



1: Iceland - Luxembourg - Norway
4: Estonia - Finland - Ireland


169: Cuba
170: Burma
171: Turkmenistan
172: North Korea
173: Eritrea
See the full results here:

Read the letters to Obama and McCain:

(22 October 2008)

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