Wednesday, October 22, 2008
By Tamora Vidaillet
The United States and Israel, despite their democratic credentials, fall down badly in their respect for press freedoms in conflict zones, a media group said on Wednesday.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said the U.S. had slipped to 119th in respect of press freedoms outside its own territory in an annual ranking of more than 160 countries, from a joint ranking at 111 in its previous annual report.
Israel, whose armed forces killed a Palestinian journalist this year for the first time since 2003, was 149th on the list for press freedoms beyond its frontiers, compared with 103rd place in RSF's 2007 rankings.
Reuters cameraman Fadel Shana was killed in April by a shell packed with darts fired from an Israeli tank in the Gaza Strip. Israel's senior military lawyer said troops could not see whether Shana had been operating a camera or a weapon but were nevertheless justified in firing.
Both Israel and the United States moved up the table for 2008 with regard to respect of press freedoms at home.
"Democracies embroiled in wars outside their own territory, such as the United States or Israel, fall further in the ranking every year," the report said.
"Destabilised and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms," it added.
It said countries in the top 20 -- led by Iceland at No. 1 -- had in common that all were parliamentary democracies and none were involved in conflict beyond their borders.
The ravages of war had also taken their toll on conditions for journalists in Georgia, which held 66th place in 2007 but plummeted to 120 this year following conflict with Russia.
The African country of Niger also took a hit, plunging to 130th place from close to 87 in the previous report due to a resumption in fighting, it said.
Kenya fell as a result of post-electoral violence, it said.
Violent conflicts kept countries such as Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan towards the bottom of the rankings, with RSF describing them as highly dangerous "black zones" for reporters.
Journalists in such countries were targeted daily for murder, kidnapping or death threats, it said.
Countries run by what RSF described as dictatorships, including China, Iran and Zimbabwe, continued to make it highly risky for journalists to operate, it said.
The year of the Olympics in China saw the jailing of dissidents and journalists but RSF noted that the Games also provided opportunities to liberal media trying to free themselves from the country's "pervasive controls."
Being a journalist in such countries involved endless frustration and constant police and judicial harassment, it said.
Eritrea stood at the bottom of the list for a second year running, again flanked by North Korea and Turkmenistan.
"North Korea and Turkmenistan are unchanging hells in which the population is cut off from the world and is subjected to propaganda worthy of a bygone age," it said.
Assurances from the international community that dialogue was the only solution had little impact, RSF said.
(Reporting by Tamora Vidaillet; editing by Michael Roddy)
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