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RSF index highlights drop of Europe and Israel in rankings; Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan worst places for journalists

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) released its latest press freedom index on 20 October, showing how European countries, Israel and Iran have all slid in the rankings. The index ranks the degree of press freedom throughout the world as well as efforts made by governments to protect journalists' rights.

Although the first 13 places are held by European countries, many have fallen in the index: "It is disturbing to see European democracies such as France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year," RSF said. "Europe should be setting an example as regards civil liberties. How can you condemn human rights violations abroad if you do not behave irreproachably at home? The Obama effect, which has enabled the United States to recover 16 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us."

The United States now ranks at 20 because President Barack Obama is "less hawkish" than his predecessor, says RSF. However, the U.S. also has an additional ranking at 108 specifically for its extraterritorial actions. Both the U.S. and Israel have rankings for their actions outside their own countries.

Israel's military offensive in the Gaza Strip has affected its ranking as it dropped 47 places to 93, falling behind several other countries in the region. Journalists have been illegally arrested and imprisoned. Israel received a second ranking at 150 for its extraterritorial actions. Around 20 journalists were injured by the Israeli military forces in the Gaza Strip and three were killed while covering the conflict.

The main threat in Europe comes from new legislation that compromises the work of journalists, says RSF. In Slovakia (44) the culture minister wields great influence over publications. In the Western world, Canada also dropped a few spots to 19.

Scandinavia comes out on top. Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Finland share first place as the five freest countries for the media.

In Iran, automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists, mistreatment, illegal arrests and imprisonment has now brought its ranking close to the worst cluster of states for press freedom. It ranks 172, followed by Turkmenistan (173), North Korea (174) and Eritrea (175). Burma remains at the bottom, right behind Iran at 171. Laos, China and Vietnam round out the cluster of Asian countries in the bottom ten.

In Sri Lanka (162), the state sentenced a journalist to 20 years in prison while other journalists under threat are forced to flee the country, says RSF. Pakistan came in at 159, "crippled" by murders of journalists caught between the military and the insurgency. It shared a record with Somalia for the world record of journalists killed during the RSF review period.

In Yemen (167) journalists continue to "pay for the government's scorched-earth policies towards any form of separatism." A similar downward trend has occurred in Syria (165). In Africa, violence takes the worst toll in countries like Somalia (164) and Democratic Republic of Congo (146).

And in the Americas, Venezuela (124) is now among the region's worst press freedom offenders, dropping down close to Colombia (126) and Mexico (tied with Gambia at 137). Honduras comes in at 128 after the recent coup d'état. Cuba, where RSF says "where press freedom is non-existent," holds a spot in the bottom ten.

The index is drawn from a questionnaire completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world. Countries are given a ranking and score based on press freedom violations from September 2008 through August 2009. It takes into consideration physical assault, imprisonment and murder of journalists, as well as censorship, confiscation of newspapers, harassment and the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for press freedom violations. It includes the measure of self-censorship and the ability of media to investigate and challenge those in power, among many more criteria.

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