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Sunday June 16, 2024

Pakistan improves ranking on RSF press freedom index

Pakistan's position improves on RSF's World Press Freedom Index, as it stands at 150th position

By Zebunnisa Burki
May 04, 2023
Members of the Quetta Union of Journalists protests against the arrest of journalists on the call of the Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), at the Quetta press club on Thursday, January 26, 2023. — PPI
Members of the Quetta Union of Journalists protests against the arrest of journalists on the call of the Federal Union of Journalists (PFUJ), at the Quetta press club on Thursday, January 26, 2023. — PPI

KARACHI: Pakistan has gone up seven spots in the latest World Press Freedom Index, moving from 157 to 150th place out of 180 countries evaluated in the 2023 index released by global media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday. Commenting on Pakistan’s position in the index, the RSF notes in its report that “changes of government loosened constraints on the media in Pakistan” -- adding however that the country still continues “to be among the world’s most dangerous countries for journalists”.

Published each year on World Press Freedom Day (May 3), the RSF index “evaluates the environment for journalism in 180 countries and territories”. According to the RSF, the 2023 index findings indicate that the situation “is ‘very serious’ in 31 countries, ‘difficult’ in 42, ‘problematic’ in 55, and ‘good’ or ‘satisfactory’ in 52 countries. In other words, the environment for journalism is ‘bad’ in seven out of ten countries, and satisfactory in only three out of ten.”

One of the countries designated as having a ‘very bad’ situation is India, which has slipped a grand total of 11 spots -- down from 150th position in last year’s index to the 161st rank this time. This, says the RSF in its report, could be because “media takeovers by oligarchs close to Prime Minister Modi have jeopardised pluralism”. The RSF explains further: in “hybrid regimes such as India, where all the mainstream media are now owned by wealthy businessmen close to Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, the free flow of information is “dangerously” restricted.

The RSF has also specifically mentioned what it calls Modi’s “army of supporters who track down all online reporting regarded as critical of the government and wage horrific harassment campaigns against the sources”, adding that “many journalists are, in practice, forced to censor themselves.” While Pakistan may have improved its ranking in the RSF Press Freedom Index this year, the situation of journalistic freedom is far from satisfactory in the country. In the annual Pakistan Press Freedom Report released on May 1 by Freedom Network, the RSF’s partner in Pakistan, “at least 140 cases of threats and attacks against journalists, media professionals and media organizations were reported in Pakistan between May 2022 and March 2023”.

Executive Director of Freedom Network Iqbal Khattak notes in the Pakistan Press Freedom Report 2023 that “The escalation in violence against journalists is disturbing and demands urgent attention...Attacks on independent journalism block access to essential information, which is especially damaging during the ongoing political and economic crises when the public needs reliable news to understand the issues and respond to them.”

With Norway once again at the top of the World Press Freedom Index -- for the fifth year running -- the last three spots belong to countries in the Asia-Pacific region: Vietnam at 178, China at 179 and North Korea at 180th position.

In his comment in the Press Freedom Index report, RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire says the index “shows enormous volatility in situations, with major rises and falls and unprecedented changes, such as Brazil’s 18-place rise and Senegal’s 31-place fall. This instability is the result of increased aggressiveness on the part of the authorities in many countries and growing animosity towards journalists on social media and in the physical world. The volatility is also the consequence of growth in the fake content industry, which produces and distributes disinformation and provides the tools for manufacturing it.”

In fact, the RSF analysis for its report finds that journalism faces a real threat by the fake content industry, as well as disinformation campaigns that are used by political actors against reporters. Per the RSF report: “the digital ecosystem’s fake content industry” has had “rapid effects on press freedom”, as in 118 countries “most of the index questionnaire’s respondents reported that political actors in their countries were often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns.”

The World Press Freedom Index report by the RSF has also remembered to address the rise of AI and the changing social media landscape, saying that the “remarkable development of artificial intelligence” is “wreaking further havoc on the media world, which had already been undermined by Web 2.0.” On Elon Musk and his plans regarding Twitter, the RSF says Musk is “pushing an arbitrary, payment-based approach to information to the extreme, showing that platforms are quicksand for journalism.”

Among the other countries mentioned in the report, Russia -- which the report says “has established a new media arsenal dedicated to spreading the Kremlin’s message in the occupied territories in southern Ukraine, while cracking down harder than ever on the last remaining independent Russian media outlets” -- has fallen nine places to 164th position. As has the US that has slipped to the 45th position in the index, which says the murders of two journalists “had a negative impact on the country’s ranking”. The RSF’s Press Freedom Index is prepared on the basis of five indicators regarding press freedom: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety. For the index, the RSF says it evaluates “these indicators on the basis of a quantitative tally of abuses against journalists and media outlets, and a qualitative analysis based on the responses of hundreds of press freedom experts to more than 100 questions.”