Denmark has risen from 14th place in 2008 to top place in 2009 in the Worldwide Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RWB).
The organisation places Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden in joint 1st place, followed by Estonia, the Netherlands, Switzerland and Iceland.
But the organisation had bitter words for some other Western countries:
“It is disturbing to see European democracies such as France, Italy and Slovakia fall steadily in the rankings year after year. 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 20 places in the index, is not enough to reassure us,” says Reporters Without Borders Secretary-general Jean-François Julliard.
The Worldwide Press Freedom Index is compiled by the RWB organisation every year on the basis of questionnaires that are completed by hundreds of journalists and media experts around the world.
“Even if the first 13 places are still held by European countries, others such as France (43rd), Slovakia (44th) and Italy (49th) continue their descent, falling eight, 37 and five places respectively. In so doing, they have given way to young democracies in Africa (Mali, South Africa and Ghana) and the western hemisphere (Uruguay and Trinidad and Tobago),” the organisation says.
It adds that journalists are still physically threatened in Italy, Spain and particularly Croatia.
Elsewhere, Reporters Without Borders cites Israel’s offensive against the Gaza Strip as having had an impact on the press.
“As regards its internal situation, Israel sank 47 places in the index to 93rd position. This nose-dive means it has lost its place at the head of the Middle Eastern countries, falling behind Kuwait (60th), United Arab Emirates (86th) and Lebanon (61st),” the organisation says.
Iran too was singled out for criticism, with Reporters Without Borders saying that ‘journalists have suffered more than ever this year in Mahmoud Ahmedinejad’s Iran’.
“Iran has now reached the gates of the infernal trio at the very bottom – Turkmenistan (173rd), North Korea (174th) and Eritrea (175th) – where the media are so suppressed they are non-existent,” it says.
There was both praise and concern for the United States, which climbed 20 places from 40 to 20 to join the United Kingdom.
“Barack Obama’s election as president and the fact that he has a less hawkish approach than his predecessor have had a lot to do with this,” RWB said, adding that the sharp rise concerned only the state of press freedoms within the country.
“President Obama may have been awarded the Nobel peace prize, but his country is still fighting two wars. Despite a slight improvement, the attitude of the United States towards the media in Iraq and Afghanistan is worrying. Several journalists were injured or arrested by the US military. One, Ibrahim Jassam, is still being held in Iraq,” RWB concluded.