The United Kingdom ranks 24th in the world for press freedom, the international monitoring group Reporters Without Borders has said.
Iceland came top of the rankings in the group’s annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, it said.
Other countries ahead of the UK included Norway, Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, Ireland, Portugal, Trinidad and Tobago, and Costa Rice.
At the bottom of the scale, Eritrea replaced North Korea as the country in the world with least press freedom, ranked at 169.
“There is nothing surprising about this,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Even if we are not aware of all the press freedom violations in North Korea and Turkmenistan, which are second and third from last, Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom.
“The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison. We know that four of them have died in detention and we have every reason to fear that others will suffer the same fate.”
Outside Europe – in which 14 top-placed countries are located – no region of the world had been spared censorship or violence towards journalists, it said.
The G8 countries, which had fallen steadily in the index for the past three years, had now recovered a few places.
France, ranked 31, was up six places in the past year, the group said,
adding: “French journalists were spared the violence that affected them at the end of 2005 in a labour conflict in Corsica and during the demonstrations in the city suburbs.
“But many concerns remain about repeated censorship, searches of news organisations, and a lack of guarantees for the confidentiality of journalists’ sources.”
In the United States, which is at 48, there were slightly fewer press freedom violations, and blogger Josh Wolf was freed after 224 days in prison.
“But the detention of Al-Jazeera’s Sudanese cameraman, Sami Al-Haj, since June 13 2002 at the military base of Guantanamo and the murder of Chauncey Bailey in Oakland in August mean the United States is still unable to join the lead group,” it said.
Italy, at 35, has also stopped its fall, even if journalists continued to face threats from mafia groups which stopped them from working in complete safety.
The Internet was now occupying more and more space in the breakdown of press freedom violations, with several countries falling in the rankings because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information, the organisation said.
Malaysia (124), Thailand (135), Vietnam (162) and Egypt (146), were examples of countries were bloggers were arrested and news websites were closed or made inaccessible.
“We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,”
Reporters Without Borders said.
“More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”
At least 64 people were currently in prisons across the world because of what they posted on the Internet.
“China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison,” said Reporters Without Borders.
“Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.”
Some countries did not appear in the rankings because of lack of information, Reporters Without Borders said.