Canada has dropped ten spots on Reporters Without Borders’ annual press freedom index on concerns about government access-to-information policies and recent court rulings that weakened protection of confidential sources.
The international press freedom watchdog ranked Canada 20th in the world for press freedom in its latest index, released this week, down from 10th place in the 2012 index.
That means Canada has lost its traditional status as the western hemisphere’s leader in press freedom — to Jamaica, which placed 13th in the rankings.
The U.S., which has consistently ranked below Canada on the index, saw its position jump 15 points, to 32nd from 47th. (Reporters Without Borders credits the Obama administration’s friendlier approach to journalists for recent improvements on the rankings.)
Finland ranked first overall on the index.
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“Access to government-held information has become more difficult since Stephen Harper became prime minister,” the group states in its most recent country report on Canada, issued in November, 2011.
The group cites a 2011 report from Canadian Journalists for Free Expression, which said requests for government information are taking longer, and more information is being redacted.
“Forty-four per cent of requests are not answered within the required period of 30 days and the average period for processing can be as long as 395 days,” Reporters Without Borders stated.
The press freedom watchdog noted that, due to recent court rulings, “journalists do not enjoy an absolute right to protect their sources” in Canada.
It cited a 2010 Supreme Court ruling that ordered the National Post and then-Post reporter Andrew McIntosh to hand over documents relating to the so-called Shawinigate scandal of the Chretien era. The ruling was widely seen as weakening, if not entirely eliminating, the ability of reporters to protect their sources.