Israel ranked 96th in the latest annual World Press Freedom Index released this week by Reporters Without Borders, behind Kuwait, North Cyprus, Kosovo and Mozambique.
The showing marks a rise of 17 spots over last year’s report, but the improvement “must be offset against its 20-place fall in the 2013 index,” the report explains.
Israel’s poor showing is due primarily to its conflict with the Palestinians, the report makes clear.
“The Israeli media are able to be outspoken,” it notes. However, Israel’s poor showing in the 2013 report — which marked a 20-spot drop from 2012’s — was “a result of Operation ‘Pillar of Defense’ in November 2012, when two Palestinian journalists were killed, and the many raids it carried out against Palestinian media.”
In its methodology section, the report notes: “In the event of a military occupation of one or more territories, any violations by representatives of the occupying force are treated as violations of the right to information in foreign territory and are incorporated into the score of the occupying force’s country.
“Abusive treatment of Palestinian and foreign journalists by the Israel Defense Forces is common,” the report charges, “especially during the weekly demonstrations at the Separation Wall. Many photojournalists were deliberately targeted when leaving the demonstrations in November 2013. On 4 December, an Israeli high court endorsed the seizure of equipment from Wattan TV during an IDF raid in February 2012.”
In general, security concerns weigh heavily against Israel in the report, which explains that “media located in ‘Israeli territory’ must comply with prior military censorship and gag orders. Investigative reporting involving national security is not welcome… Security needs continue to be used as an excuse to limit freedom of information.”
The index goes beyond measuring freedom of expression, including such factors as the transparency of government media regulators, the effectiveness of legislation regulating press freedoms, the concentration of media ownership, favoritism in state subsidies or advertising, and discrimination in access to journalism or journalism training. The data is gleaned from questionnaires sent to 150 correspondents and 18 “partner organizations” around the world, in addition to “journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.”
The report did not identify its respondents.
“The index should in no way be taken as an indication of the quality of the media in the countries concerned,” the methodology section emphasized, but rather as a measure of the environment in which that media operates.
The index has been published every year since 2002. “It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations and netizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.”
The latest report, which covers the situation in 180 countries in 2014, found that “media freedom is in retreat on all five continents,” Reporters Without Borders said in a press release Thursday.
“There was a drastic decline in freedom of information in 2014. Two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed for the 2015 World Press Freedom Index performed less well than in the previous year,” it warned.
“The annual global indicator, which measures the overall level of violations of freedom of information in 180 countries year by year, has risen to 3,719, an 8 percent increase over 2014 and almost 10 percent compared with 2013. The decline affected all continents.”
At the top of the press freedom list of 180 countries stands Finland – for the fifth year running – followed by fellow Scandinavian countries Norway and Denmark. At the bottom are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea at No. 180. The United States came in at 49th, primarily due to government efforts to stifle national-security whistle blowers, Jordan at 141, Russia at 152, Turkey at 154, Iran at 173 and China at 175.
“Palestine,” marked on the map as the West Bank (it was not clear from the publication if Hamas-ruled Gaza was included) was in the 138th spot, behind Libya.