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Peter Worthington

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Canada's Press Freedom: Better than Iran's but Worse than Finland's

Posted: 02/ 9/2012 10:24 am

To the surprise of some, Canada is 10th on the scale of press freedom in the world, as determined by the organization Reporters Without Borders (RWB).

A lot of Canadians would probably expect us to be number one, but that's only because journalists here aren't often assassinated, arrested, or beaten up by government thugs who are party bullies when they write stuff that embarrasses their betters.

Still, if it's any consolation, Canada rates tops in press freedom among English-speaking countries of the world, with wimpy countries like Finland, Norway, Estonia, Netherlands, Austria, Iceland and Switzerland leading the parade.

For what it's worth, the U.S. is 47th (of 179 countries), Britain 28th, Australia 30th, New Zealand 13th. If you can believe it Jamaica, Mali, Niger, El Salvador South Africa, Tanzania are deemed to have more press freedom that the U.S. Hmm.

Frankly, countries that don't periodically kill journalists and editors for what they publish, interest RWB less than countries that do. So because, say, Canada's Freedom of Information legislation often seems designed to hide or camouflage more than it reveals, it gets limited attention from organizations that fret over the plight and safety of journalists.

In fact, over the lethal decade since 9/11, The Committee to Protect Journalists has documented something like 897 journalists who've been killed doing their job. That's a disquieting total. Up to 50 journalists are killed annually -- kidnapped and murdered, caught in crossfires, murdered in retribution, or simply because they go to dangerous places.

For the record, the countries where press freedom is most repressed are as predictable as those at the top of the list: North Korea, Syria, Iran, China, Eritrea, Cuba, Afghanistan, Russia, and Palestinian regions all hug the bottom of the scale.

Russia (142nd in press freedom) has recorded 53 journalists murdered over the decade -- that averages to about five per year. Photographers run the greatest risk -- 61 per cent of journalists killed last year were photographers.

Reporters Without Borders was formed in 1985, and has centres scattered throughout the world, with the mandate that it defends journalists who are imprisoned, it fights against censorship, offers financial aid in some case, and seeks to ensure safety for journalists in war zones.

These are commendable goals, but try persuading an insurgent with an AK47.

The U.S. plunged from 20th in 2010 to 47 today thanks largely to some 25 journalists being arrested or roughed up while covering the Wall Street occupiers. (Toronto police policy of hands off St. James Park occupiers helped vault Canada from 21st to 10th -- mindful of the OPP diligently ignoring illegalities by aboriginal protestors at Caledonia.)

Pakistan, America's dubious ally in dealing with Afghanistan, rates 151st in the world for press freedom, and is a deadly country for journalists.

Curiously, after the so-called "Arab Spring" rebellions, staged in the name of democracy, Egypt fell 39 places to 166th, Bahrain down 29 to 173rd, Libya from 160th to 154th. Big deal. Significant is that "rebellion" does not imply replacement by democracy -- or more freedom. Rebellion changes the dynamics of a country, but does not necessarily herald liberty.

One of the dramatic changes this year is likely to be Nigeria, whose press freedom scale has remained relatively constant over the decade at 122nd -- pretty lousy, but with massacres and cleansing of Christians in the north, it's going to get worse.

Nigerian journalists who tell the truth are most vulnerable.