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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Australia 30 out of 179 in press freedom report

The Press Freedom Index 2011-2012, a survey covering 179 countries published by Paris based NGO, Reporters Without Borders (RSF), ranks Australia 30th, a drop of 12 places in a year, but overall "satisfactory." At the top of the list, Finland, Norway, Estonia and the Netherlands. Canada came in 10th, the UK at 28 and the US at 47. New Zealand dropped from eight to 13. No country in this region made the top ten. China at 174.

Our standing in this annual survey is now two places below that of 2007. At that time this was cited as one of the reasons for the establishment of the coalition of major media organisations, Australia's Right to Know, to address concerns about free speech in Australia. (Low profile in recent years, to put it mildly- the latest Media Release posted, May 2010; the latest submission to government October 2009.)

In the decade since these surveys began, the first was our best (12), the next our worst (50), with significant movement within these tramtracks since:
No country reports are published with the survey results. In the 2011-2012 summary we receive this half-sentence mention (Asia section):
"In Australia (30th), the media were subjected to investigations and criticism by the authorities, and were denied access to information.." 
Hmm. Ignoring the hysteria in some media circles over floated privacy law reforms, and the claims Andrew Bolt is a martyr for free speech, you could expand on that if room permitted, all the while acknowledging some improvements in freedom of information laws and practice in all but three jurisdictions.

The criteria for the ratings are published, as is the methodology:
The (44 question) questionnaire was sent to Reporters Without Borders’ partner organizations (18 freedom of expression groups in all five continents-none in Australia), to its network of 150 correspondents around the world, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists (hands up anyone? declaration, not me.). A scale devised by the organization was then used to give a country score to each questionnaire.
Separately as part of the RSF project "Enemies of the Internet" the prospect of a harsh internet filtering system here receives special mention and we appear on the list of countries under surveillance on this score.

I'm with Andrew Lowenthal writing in the New York Times-I too like RSF and admire the important work it does, but rankings of this kind are, well, questionable. Lowenthal is scratching his head that Hungary rated seven places ahead of the USA despite the fact that it has adopted a law giving the ruling party direct control over the media and amending its constitution accordingly.

Lowenthal is not alone. In Indonesia The Jakarta Post reports the Press Council saying it was odd that Indonesia (down 29 places to 146) ranked below Singapore, Brunei Darussalam and Malaysia, "all countries in Southeast Asia known for the draconian measures used to silence the media." (I'd throw in Fiji at 117 for good measure.)

Commentary from our homegrown media is awaited with interest.

In the latest Freedom House Freedom of the Press survey (2011) which includes a detailed country report, Australia's score was 21-the best appears to be 10.

1 comment:

  1. If they have no Australian contributors it must take a lot of work doing the research to establish where they should be on the scale.

    The best indicator of press freedom is to watch a country's news. Greece and Italy, for example, have excellent news - much better than ours. I think they may be unable to assess how censorship by trivia and spin starves the country of information just as much here as a dictatorship in another country.

    The media monopolies here constitute dictatorships don't they?