Pandemic amplifies press freedom threats; situation in Latvia has improved - Reporters Without Borders

  • 2020-04-21
  • LETA/AFP/TBT Staff

PARIS - The coronavirus pandemic is exacerbating threats to press freedom around the world, with authoritarian states including China and Iran suppressing details of the outbreak, Paris-based Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said in its annual press freedom rankings Tuesday. 

Meanwhile, Latvia has climbed two positions to 22nd place in the World Press Freedom Index, covering 180 countries of the world. Estonia has slipped three positions to 14th place and Lithuania has risen two positions to 28th place in the RSF rankings. 

According to the RSF report, 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 mobilization has weakened to impose measures that would be impossible to adopt in normal times", AFP quoted RSF secretary general Christophe Deloire as saying.

The rankings saw few major changes from last year, with Nordic countries regarded as the most free, with Norway taking the top spot for the fourth consecutive year, followed by Finland, Denmark, Sweden and the Netherlands.

Footing the list of 180 countries were Vietnam (175), Djibouti (176), China (177), Eritrea (178), Turkmenistan (179) and North Korea (180).

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, RSF 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". 

A Chinese foreign ministry official hit back on Tuesday, claiming RSF "has always been biased against China" and adding that China welcomes reporters from other countries to work there -- "while adhering to laws and regulations".

Europe has also not been immune -- Hungary, under Prime Minister Viktor Orban, has passed a special law on false information which RSF called a "completely disproportionate and coercive measure". 

It added that there was a "clear correlation" between suppression of media freedom in response to the coronavirus pandemic and a country's ranking in the index.