Press freedom group says propaganda is a global threat to media freedom

Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also taken another casualty: press freedom in Russia, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders.

The media advocacy group ranked Russia near the bottom of its 2022 World Press Freedom Index, released on Tuesday to mark World Press Freedom Day. The annual index ranks a record 28 countries as “having very poor media freedom”.

According to Reporters Without Borders, also known as RSF, Moscow’s attack on a free press intensified as Russian troops invaded Ukraine through means such as propaganda, laws aimed at discrediting the media credibility, website bans and arrests.

Russia is just one of many countries highlighted in the updated index whose governments have either restricted or suppressed media freedom altogether. They include:

– Afghanistan, where the Taliban pledged to defend press freedom after regaining power last year, but instead imposed restrictive laws and blocked female journalists from the airwaves, and where the media is confronted struggling financially after entertainment and advertising bans reduced their income;

– Hong Kong, where pro-democracy news sites have been shut down after a series of raids and arrests since Beijing approved a sweeping national security law in 2020 after massive anti-government protests the previous year;

– Ethiopia, which imposed communications cuts and restricted access in the midst of war in the Tigray region;

– and Myanmar, where the 2021 coup that toppled the civilian government led to the detention of journalists, the revocation of media licenses and many news outlets being pushed into exile, marking a 10-year setback for media rights.

“There is a contagion effect with authoritarian regimes,” said Clayton Weimers, RSF’s US deputy director, “and when we allow a culture of impunity to exist where authoritarians are allowed to prosecute journalists, harassing them, arresting them, beating them in the streets and killing them, it has a ripple effect. It encourages that same bossy to do it again next time, and it encourages other bossies watching to do the same.

More troubling, Weimars told VOA, is the impact of media polarization and misinformation on society: “In 2022, it’s really undeniable that media polarization and information chaos are really fueling divisions. social in a rather new way.”

Democracies play an important role in safeguarding press freedom. But this rise in disinformation and propaganda is having a disastrous effect on independent news, notes RSF.

The 2022 index finds the United States has made a slight improvement from 2021, but journalists and media outlets report obstacles to coverage, including state governments and protests.

“We generally find that this is due to either a blatant disregard for the laws governing open recordings or meetings, or a misinterpretation,” Beth Francesco, senior director of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, told VOA. “An individual misinterprets whether a reporter may be present at a particular event.”

Richard Green contributed to this report.

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