The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating threats to press freedom around the world, with authoritarian states including China and Iran suppressing details of the outbreak, activists said on Tuesday.
Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual press freedom rankings the pandemic was “highlighting and amplifying the many crises” already casting a shadow on press freedom.
The outbreak had encouraged some regimes to “take advantage of the fact people are stunned and mobilisation has weakened to impose measures that would be impossible to adopt in normal times”, RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire told AFP.
The rankings saw few major changes from last year, with Nordic countries regarded as the most free and isolated states Turkmenistan and North Korea footing the list of 180 countries.
RSF accused China and Iran — in 177th and 173rd place respectively — of censoring major coronavirus outbreaks.
Alluding to accusations that Beijing concealed the initial extent of the outbreak, it said China “maintains its system of information hyper-control, whose negative effects for the entire world have been seen during the coronavirus public health crisis”.
Europe has also not been immune — Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has passed a special law on false information which was a “completely disproportionate and coercive measure”.
RSF said there was a “clear correlation” between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a country’s ranking in the index.
While Norway topped the index for the fourth year in a row, Finland was again the runner-up.
North Korea took last position from Turkmenistan, and Eritrea continued to be Africa’s lowest-ranked country at number 178.
Published annually by RSF since 2002, the World Press Freedom Index assesses factors such as media independence, self-censorship, the legal framework and transparency based on a questionnaire filled out by experts.
Turkey, where President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has been repeatedly criticised for cracking down on press freedom, rose three places to 154th but RSF said this was because of “other countries falling” rather than positive change.
It said censorship of the media, especially online media, has been stepped up in Turkey and the country was “more authoritarian than ever.”