Libel, Leveson and riots blamed for UK press freedom fall

A report by the campaign group Reporters Without Borders has suggested that press freedom in the UK has declined over the past year due to ‘archaic’libel laws, the Leveson Inquiry and the London riots.

The 2011/12 Press Freedom Index shows Britain has dropped nine places in the world rankings to 28th, falling below the likes of Cape Verde and Namibia, the first two African countries to break into the top 20.

The UK now stands at its joint lowest position since the survey was first carried out in 2002.

RWB England and Northern Ireland representative Heather Blake said the UK’s decline could be attributed to the Leveson Inquiry, which she said was ‘discussing regulations that should not even be considered’and ‘archaic’libel laws which ‘threaten freedom of reporting”.

The accompanying report added: ‘[The UK] caused concern with its approached to the protection of privacy and its response to the London riots. Despite universal condemnation, the UK also clings to a surreal law that allows the entire world to come and sue news media before it courts.”

Citing the impact of the London riots, RWB said it was ‘worried’about cooperation between the BlackBerry manufacturer Research in Motion (RIM) and the police after the company provided Scotland Yard with information about a number of BlackBerry users following the disturbances.

RWB claimed this ‘jeopardised’their personal data.

Arab Spring

The rankings are based on a country’s score in a 44-question survey covering areas including violence against journalists, censorship laws and freedom of the internet.

As has been the case in each of the surveys put together over the past decade, Scandinavian countries dominate the top of the table, with Finland and Norway taking joint top spot this year.

Meanwhile, Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan make up the bottom three for the seventh year in a row.

This year’s figures also drop the United States 27 places to 47th, after some journalists were arrested during coverage of the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Niger climbed 75 places to 29th after a “successful political transition”.

Of particular interest to RWB was the movement of the Middle Eastern nations where large changes occurred during the Arab Spring.

Tunisia (130th) and Libya (154th) saw the biggest advance in press freedom, according to RWB, while Egypt fell 39 places to 166th and Syria (176th), Yemen (171st) and Bahrain (173rd) received their worst-ever rankings.

RWB said in a statement: ‘This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world.

‘Never has Freedom of Information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous,’it said.

‘The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom.”

  • To contact the Press Gazette newsdesk call 020 7336 5327 or email pged@pressgazette.co.uk

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