by Alice Pistolesi

An increase in polarisation that fuels divisions within countries and between states at international level: This is what emerges from the 20th World Press Freedom Index published on the International day for the Freedom of Press, by the NGO Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontières). The 2022 edition of the World Press Freedom Index, which assesses the state of journalism in 180 countries and territories, highlights “the disastrous effects of news and information chaos: the effects of a globalised and unregulated online information space that encourages fake news and propaganda”.

The NGO notes that divisions are growing within democratic societies. This is due to the proliferation of opinion media and the spread of disinformation circuits amplified by social media. At the international level, however, “democracies are weakened by the asymmetry between open societies and despotic regimes that control media and online platforms while waging propaganda wars against democracies”.

Some examples of applied propaganda

Reporters Without Borders observes, for example, how the invasion of Ukraine (106th in the ranking) by Russia (155th) reflects this process, as the armed conflict was preceded by a propaganda war. Equally, in the Middle East, the lack of press freedom continues to have an impact on the conflict between Israel (ranked 86th), Palestine (170th) and the Arab states.

The polarisation of the media is also fuelling and reinforcing internal social divisions in the United States (42nd place) and France (26th), where according to the NGO’s findings, the increase in social and political tension is fuelled by social media and new opinion media. The suppression of independent media is also contributing to a strong polarisation in “illiberal democracies” such as Poland (66th), where the authorities have consolidated their control over public broadcasting and their strategy of “re-colonisation” of private media.

Once again, the top of the ranking is occupied by the trio Norway, Denmark and Sweden.

The situation was classified as ‘very bad’ in a record number of 28 countries, while 12 states, including Belarus (153rd) and Russia (155th), are on the Index’s red list. The world’s 10 worst countries for press freedom include Myanmar (176th), where the February 2021 coup set press freedom back a decade, as well as China, Turkmenistan (177th), Iran (178th), Eritrea (179th) and North Korea (180th).

How the Rsf ranking is created

Rsf defines press freedom as “the effective ability of journalists, as individuals and as groups, to select, produce and disseminate news and information in the public interest, independent of political, economic, legal and social interference and without threat to their physical and psychological safety”. To compile the Index, five new indicators have been developed for the 2022 edition: the political context, the legal framework, the economic context, the socio-cultural context and security.

In the 180 countries and territories ranked, the indicators are assessed on the basis of a quantitative survey of press freedom violations and abuses against journalists and the media and a qualitative study based on the responses of hundreds of press freedom experts selected by Rsf (journalists, academics and human rights defenders) using a questionnaire with 123 questions. The questionnaire has been updated in recent years, to take better account of new challenges related to the digitisation of the media.


All images: RSF, 2022 Press Freedom Index