Press freedom and corruption: A look at some data

Reporters Without Borders came out with their annual Press Freedom Index this week.

Press Freedom Index 2010

Unfortunately, things don’t look all that great for press freedom around the world. And that could also mean more economic and human rights problems.

First let’s look at the RSF report and what it has to say about press freedom in the world.

According to RSF, Europe was a major disappointment.

Reporters Without Borders has repeatedly expressed its concern about the deteriorating press freedom situation in the European Union and the 2010 index confirms this trend. Thirteen of the EU’s 27 members are in the top 20 but some of the other 14 are very low in the ranking. Italy is 49th, Romania is 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria are tied at 70th. The European Union is not a homogenous whole as regards media freedom. On the contrary, the gap between good and bad performers continues to widen.

It is worth noting that, for the first time since the start of the index in 2002, Cuba is not one of the 10 worst countries. (It is #13 from the bottom.)

This is due above all to the release of 14 journalists and 22 activists in the course of the past summer. But the situation on the ground has not changed significantly. Political dissidents and independent journalists still have to deal with censorship and repression on a daily basis.

So we are not really looking at anew opening in Cuba, just the political leadership looking for a few global brownie points.

Brazil moved up 12 points in its freedom ranking largely due to real progress in media law and free press practices. It leads the way for freedom among the so-called BRIC countries as well.

Economic growth does not mean press freedom

The BRICs – Brazil, Russia, India and China – may all be at a roughly similar stage of economic development but the 2010 index highlights major differences in the press freedom situation in these countries. Thanks to favourable legislative changes, Brazil (58th) has risen 12 places in the past year, while India has fallen 17 places to 122nd. Russia, which had a particularly deadly preceding year, is still poorly placed at 140th. Despite an astonishingly vibrant and active blogosphere, China still censors and jails dissidents and continues to languish in 171st place. These four countries now shoulder the responsibilities of the emerging powers and must fulfil their obligations as regards fundamental rights.

Brazilian journalists are rightfully proud of the efforts they have made in the past couple of years to remove the last vestiges of the dictatorship years.

Yes, there is still a long way to go, but the progress has been impressive.

The bottom 10 countries on the RSF list should not surprise anyone:

169 Rwanda
170 Yemen
171 China
172 Sudan
173 Syria
174 Burma
175 Iran
176 Turkmenistan
177 North Korea
178 Eritrea

Sometimes it is interesting to compare the rankings of one group with another. In this case, I will take the bottom 10 from the RSF and compare their rankings with the Freedom House Press Freedom Index and the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index.

Freedom House takes other issues into consideration when making its evaluation. (In my opinion, it is a more thorough reading of press and media freedom because it does take into consideration political freedoms and human rights violations as well.)

The Transparency International corruption index has been a great source of information about corruption around the world. In general, you see more corruption where the media are more constrained.

RSF Ranking Country Freedom House Transparency Intl.
Worst=178 RSF Bottom 10 Worst=196 Worst=180
169 Rwanda 178 89
170 Yemen 173 154
171 China 181 79
172 Sudan 165 176
173 Syria 178 126
174 Burma 194 178
175 Iran 187 168
176 Turkmenistan 194 168
177 North Korea 196 No Data
178 Eritrea 192 126

The countries with numbers in red indicate “membership” in the bottom 10 of their respective indexes.

So there is a clear consensus of who the bad guys are when it comes to press freedom.

There is also a pretty clear correlation between the lack of press freedom and corruption.

Just in case anyone asks why Americans should be concerned about press freedom in other countries, besides the usual “if one person is not free no one is free” philosophical answer, you can also point out that without a free press corruption and all its evils is allowed to flourish.

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4 Comments

Filed under Censorship, Connections, International News Coverage, Press Freedom, Story Ideas

4 responses to “Press freedom and corruption: A look at some data

  1. Aparajita Sinha

    Thank you for your insight. I’m working on a dissertation with pretty much the same hypothesis as stated in the last part of your post, that press freedom leads to lower corruption levels. Still working on it, but have some positive results till now. Also conducting an empirical analysis, so I’ve used the Transparency International Index, the RSF Index, the Democracy Index etc. to run a regression with transparency as dependent variable. Got a high degree of correlation with media freedom. Your tips, if any, shall be highly appreciated :-)

  2. Pingback: Russia, corruption and press freedom | Journalism, Journalists and the World

  3. true… not sure who said this, but it still rings true: I have absolutely no idea what my generation did to enrich our democracy. We dropped the ball. We entered a period of complacency and closed our eyes to the public corruption of our democracy.

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