For the first time in more than a decade, the press is freer in Africa than in the Americas. Yet a global "climate of fear and tension" continues to erode press freedom around the world, according to the Paris-based Reporters Without Borders.
The group's 2016 World Press Freedom Index reveals a "deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels." Global press freedom violations are up 14 percent since 2013, according to its scoring system.
“The climate of fear results in a growing aversion to debate and pluralism, a clampdown on the media by ever more authoritarian and oppressive governments, and reporting in the privately-owned media that is increasingly shaped by personal interests," the group's secretary general, Christophe Deloire, said in a statement. "Journalism worthy of the name must be defended."
Overall, press freedom eroded in two-thirds of the 180 countries tracked since last year, resulting in a roughly 3.7 percent decline in press freedom. Europe's news media is freest, by far. Africa is next, followed by the Americas, where violence against journalists is on the rise, according to the report. Asia and Eastern Europe are next, followed by North Africa and the Middle East.
"The survival of independent news coverage is becoming increasingly precarious in both the state and privately-owned media because of the threat from ideologies, especially religious ideologies, that are hostile to media freedom, and from large-scale propaganda machines," the report's authors write.
Tajikistan and Brunei fell the most in the ranks, each sliding 34 spots to 150th and 155th in this year's rankings. That plunge was driven by rising authoritarianism in Tajikistan and self-censorship fueled by the growing weight of sharia law and threats of blasphemy charges. Poland fell from 29th to 47th because of the ultra-conservative government's seizure of the public media, the group reports.
Eritrea's news media is the least free, followed by North Korea's. Turkmenistan is next, followed by Syria and China. Finland is home to the world's freest news media, followed by the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand.
The infrastructure indicator of Reporters Without Borders, which measures access to the Internet and government destruction of media property, has fallen 16 percent since 2013. Another indicator that measures self-censorship and anti-press laws was down 10 percent.
The index is based on 87-question surveys administered in nearly two dozen languages to experts around the world. It has been reported annually since 2002.