Reporters Without Borders, the Paris-based press freedom watchdog, is out with its newest World Press Freedom report Wednesday, and for the most part, the good and bad guys are who you'd expect: Europe, the United States and Canada are in the clear, while South America and much of Africa have "noticeable problems," indicating lack of access and occasional attacks on media.

Reporters Without Borders

Meanwhile, censorship-prone nations such as China, as well as much of Central Asia and parts of the Middle East are red or black, meaning they've earned the worst ratings because of the harassment and killing of journalists and increasingly iron-fisted censors.

One of the more interesting aspects of the report is the list of "fallers," or those countries whose ratings have slipped most from last year. Most of these reflect relatively recent turmoil, such as in Mali or Israel, or attempts by governments to block access to sensitive information:

Mali (99th, -74) registered the biggest fall in the index as a result of all the turmoil in 2012. The military coup in Bamako on 22 March and the north’s takeover by armed Islamists and Tuareg separatists exposed the media in the north to censorship and violence. Tanzania (70th, -36) sank more than 30 places because, in the space of four months, a journalist was killed while covering a demonstration and another was murdered.

Buffeted by social and economic protests, the Sultanate of Oman (141st) sank 24 places, the biggest fall in the Middle East and North Africa in 2012. Some 50 netizens and bloggers were prosecuted on lèse majesté or cyber-crime charges in 2012. No fewer than 28 were convicted in December alone, in trials that trampled on defence rights.

Journalists in Israel (112th, -20) enjoy real freedom of expression despite the existence of military censorship but the country fell in the index because of the Israeli military’s targeting of journalists in the Palestinian Territories.

In Asia, Japan (53rd, -31) has been affected by a lack of transparency and almost zero respect for access to information on subjects directly or indirectly related to Fukushima. This sharp fall should sound an alarm. 


What's more, it seems like the election of new leaders hasn't yet done much to improve the media freedom picture in countries where Arab Spring revolutions took place. Though Libya rose 23 points, to 131st place, Tunisia sank by four points and Egypt only rose by eight, to 158th place, out of 179 countries on the list. And of course, things continue to be extremely grim in Syria:

The deadliest country for journalists in 2012 was Syria (176th, 0), where journalists and netizens are the victims of an information war waged by both the Assad regime, which stops at nothing in order to crack down and impose a news blackout, and by opposition factions that are increasingly intolerant of dissent.

Bahrain also continues to suffer from extreme media oppression, but even countries that saw democratic elections haven't become bastions of transparency. In Egypt, for example, the Muslim Brotherhood appointed new executives and editors to run the state newspapers, which had a major impact on their editorial policies, the group points out.

Read the whole report here.