15 countries with the freest press in the world are utopias for anyone who is passionate about working in the media.
There is no denying that the media has a pivotal role in the world we live in. Especially today, when we are collectively wired to Internet 24/7 and bombarded with information. What content we are provided with, shapes the way we think about the world and therefore the way we act. For those in power, media control is a way of maintaining that same power. By controlling the content, the media produces, they in effect control the way people perceive the world. In such context, the majority are not in the position to critically examine the government and their decision making. They are not allowed to see the full picture, but simply a fragment. Being a journalist, one who adheres to the ethical principles of journalism proves to be a challenge in such circumstances. They face numerous obstacles in trying to inform the public. Many face the risks we hardly could understand. It is precisely because of the efforts they make at such great costs that we, as a society, should show more appreciation for what they do.
Reporters Without Borders has recently published an overview of the data regarding human rights violations against journalists worldwide in 2017. The data shows that 65 journalists were killed, 54 were held hostages, while 326 were detained. Two journalists went missing. This data illustrates the importance that is placed on media produced content, while also demonstrating the risks journalists are willing to take to get the information they feel is valuable. We have already published an article on countries without freedom of speech or press, and those are the places where the risks involving investigative journalism are very high. On the other side of the spectrum, some of the countries which found their place on our list of top 25 richest, healthiest and most advanced countries in the world are the ones having the freest press.
Reporters Without Borders publish annual data on World Press Freedom Index. The data ranks 180 countries based on the freedom journalists are given in reporting. I will shortly outline what the rankings looked like in the past couple of years. Eritrea, North Korea, and Turkmenistan were ranked last in the World Press Freedom Index in 2012. As it was indicated, the totalitarian dictatorship of the President Isaias Afwerki allows no freedom of the press, which is why Eritrea was placed at the bottom of the list. Scandinavian countries were ranked at the top of the list. The ranking of countries in the World Press Freedom Index in 2013 did not look much different when it comes to the countries ranked at the top and at the bottom. Finland was again the country with the highest score, while Eritrea was ranked last. While there were no changes when it comes to the countries ranked the best and the worst in the World Press Freedom Index in 2014, the United States noted a significant decline in the rank that year. As indicated, such decline is a result of the increased efforts of the US government “to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks.” The country with the highest media freedom, Finland, remained so in the World Press Freedom Index in 2015. As elaborated on in the analysis, this was not the year of Western European countries, such as Italy and Iceland, which saw a decline in ranking. The top of the list looked different in the World Press Freedom Index for 2017, when Finland was ranked third, while Norway replaced it on 1st place. North Korea replaced Eritrea as the country with the least free press.
One of the countries which made no significant improvement nor decline in the last couple of years is India. In the last published data on the World Press Freedom Index India is ranked as 136th. Its abuse score is 57 out of 100 and compared to 2016 data; it is ranked three places lower on the list. As the 2016 Freedom House report on press freedom in India suggests, media workers faced obstacles under the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. Journalists had difficulties reaching government officials, and they also reported receiving threats. Furthermore, over the course of 2016, there was strong government censorship that put a serious limitation on media freedoms.
To create the list of 15 countries with the freest press in the world, I used the data provided by the Reporters Without Borders and by the Freedom House. I used the World Press Freedom Index values for 2017, 2016, 2015 and 2014 in order to calculate average values and based on this rank the countries. I used the country narrative reports, where available, provided by the Freedom House and by the Reporters with Borders in order to get additional information with regards to media freedoms in the counties on the list.
Belgium is ranked last on our list of countries with the freest press in the world. In 2017 ranking by the Reporters Without Borders, Belgium was positioned 9th, with a score of 12.75. As indicated in the Freedom House 2015 report, the rights of the media are proclaimed in the Constitution and are respected in practice.