Israel drops sharply in annual press freedom ranking

IDF, which ‘deliberately targeted journalists’ during Gaza op, pushes Israel down to No. 112; ‘Palestine’ slightly improves

Raphael Ahren is the diplomatic correspondent at The Times of Israel.

Illustrative: Journalists for al-Arabiya on the border of the Gaza Strip (Nati Shohat/Flash90)
Illustrative: Journalists for al-Arabiya on the border of the Gaza Strip (Nati Shohat/Flash90)

Israel took a steep dive in an international list measuring freedom of the press, ranking 112 out of 179 countries, a decrease of 20 places since last year. Israel now ranks lower than countries such as Lebanon, Qatar, Kuwait and Uganda.

“Palestine” took the 146th spot on the 2013 list, published annually by Reporters Without Borders, slightly increasing its position compared to the previous year.

Despite Israel being listed as one of this year’s “big falls,” its journalists enjoy “real freedom of expression,” the organization acknowledged.

Israel’s 20-place drop is due to the actions of the Israel Defense Forces in the Palestinian territories, which used to be ranked separately under the label of “Israel extraterritorial,” Reporters Without Borders explained in the 2013 World Press Freedom IndexDuring Operation Pillar of Defense last November, the Israeli army “deliberately targeted journalists and buildings housing media that are affiliated to Hamas or support it,” the report states. “And the arbitrary arrest and detention of Palestinian journalists is still commonplace.”

During the IDF’s offensive in Gaza, which followed months of rocket fire from the Strip on Israel’s south, at least three journalists were killed and at least 10 media personnel were injured, making the army the subject of much criticism from human rights groups.

“Israeli airstrikes continue to put journalists in harm’s way,” Committee to Protect Journalists Middle East and North Africa Program Coordinator Sherif Mansour said at the time. “This reflects the risks journalists face while reporting on conflict, especially in such a densely populated area.”

The IDF responded by saying that it abides by the laws of armed conflict, despite ongoing deliberate violations and abuse of these laws by Gaza terrorists.

Despite Israel’s relatively low ranking, the 2013 report attests that the government gives members of the press a free hand to do their jobs. “Israeli journalists meanwhile enjoy real freedom of expression but military censorship continues to be a structural problem,” the report states.

“Palestine,” the report notes, is still in the list’s bottom quarter but rose eight places. “An improvement in relations between the Palestinian Authority and Hamas has had a positive impact on freedom of information and the working environment for journalists.”

The report considers many criteria in establishing its ranking, such as legislation, and violence against journalists. The list is headed by Finland, Netherlands and Norway. At the very bottom are Iran, Somalia, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

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