How free is our press?


by Rumbold
23rd October, 2008 at 3:57 pm    

Whilst many of us deplore the way in which the tabloids act on occasions, we can at least console ourselves with the fact that our press is one of the freest in the world. We have a wide range of newspapers, TV channels and blogs to choose from, and even the BBC, though paid for through tax, is at least independent in the sense that the government does not control its world view (not that it needs to). Yet a new report from Reporters Without Borders ranks the UK only 23rd in the world for press freedom (up one place from last year), behind a number of Eastern European countries and level with Namibia. The USA does even worse, finishing 36th (albeit up from 48th), one place behind France, which traditionally has had an image of a restricted press. India also did worse then I would have thought, finishing only 118th (up from 120th). Looking at the criteria for measurement, I suspect that our restrictive libel laws had something to do with our relatively lowly position:

To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders prepared a questionnaire with 49 criteria that assess the state of press freedom in each country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). Ánd it includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.

It also measures the level of self-censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticise. Financial pressure, which is increasingly common, is also assessed and incorporated into the final score.

The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also reflects violations of the free flow of information on the Internet.

Iceland, currently being bullied by Gordon Brown, was top. The list of the bottom twenty countries reads like the itinerary for George Galloway’s world tour.

(Via Patrick Vessey at the LPUK blog)


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Filed in: Civil liberties,Media






21 Comments below   |  

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  1. Amrit — on 23rd October, 2008 at 5:28 pm  

    ‘even the BBC, though paid for through tax, is at least independent in the sense that the government does not control its world view (not that it needs to).’

    ?

    Care to explain that?

  2. Rumbold — on 23rd October, 2008 at 5:31 pm  

    They are ideological soul mates. Pro-EU, pro-tax, pro-laws.

  3. Zak — on 23rd October, 2008 at 6:20 pm  

    The UK media from my reading is with some honourable exceptions quite establishment oriented. It allows press leaks and has an understanding with the government on what is acceptable and whats not.

    The US press is a bit more willing to shake things up by comparison.

    Having read foreign newspapers from a young age I have found arab English press quite surprisingly free in one aspect their coverage of foreign affairs. the Indian English press is quite similar to Britain..with exceptions like outlook and the late tehleka the press is quite pro state. Pakistan’s english press is almost viciously anti government and introspective on the state itself.

  4. Don — on 23rd October, 2008 at 6:39 pm  

    pro-laws?

    Rumbold, I know what you mean by that (I may not agree, but I know what you mean) but as a bald criticism being ‘pro-laws’ does sound a bit odd. I’m pro-laws myself, rather imperfect laws than none at all.

  5. Rumbold — on 23rd October, 2008 at 7:25 pm  

    Don:

    Fair enough. It was sloppily put. Some laws are needed.

  6. Refresh — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:22 pm  

    ‘The list of the bottom twenty countries reads like the itinerary for George Galloway’s world tour.’

    Would this also be the same itinerary Bush and Blair call the Enduring Freedom Tour?

  7. Refresh — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:30 pm  

    Where is the Rumbold of light and reason?

    We should be told.

  8. fugstar — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:32 pm  

    i dont think its ‘free’ that is the important ‘quality’ at the moment. more like ‘inbred’. yes it is very inbred, they all are.

  9. Refresh — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:35 pm  

    Fugstar beneath that exterior there is genius:

    ‘inbred media’

    Absolute genius!

  10. Sid — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:44 pm  

    Fugstar beneath that exterior there is genius

    the jury is still out.

  11. Rumbold — on 23rd October, 2008 at 8:58 pm  

    Heh Sid.

    Refresh:

    Every now and then I need to release the right winger in me. It is part of the healing process.

    Anyway, since when have you liked George Galloway? Even though I disagree with you sometimes, your arguments always come across as well made and heartfelt. Mr. Galloway is a clown, and not worthy of your respect.

  12. MaidMarian — on 23rd October, 2008 at 9:38 pm  

    Interesting headline on the link to the report and rankings. ‘Only peace protects freedoms in post-9/11 world.’ I read into that a subtext that journalists wont be doing the protecting.

    Whilst I see the point being made here, this is all a bit self-indulgent isn’t it? Whatever subtext there is here, I rather struggle with the idea that somehow the UK press operates under massive restrictions. The stark reality is that the UK media is very much defined by quantity rather than quality and there is no newspaper in the UK market currently able to hold a candle to the best the US produces. Not something I am proud to say.

    What I am not really sure Rumbold, and perhaps you would be kind enough to elaborate, is what you suggest. Some sort of blanket protection for all hacks? A totally unrestricted market? Presumably you want a lightening of libel laws? Privacy too? Press not made to pay court costs?

    With all respect, the Murdoch press does not strike me as a timid beast cowed by an overmighty state.

    On a separate point incicentally, Iceland deserves everything it gets. That country has fitted perfectly the term ‘Rogue State,’ for the best part of four decades. Brown was probably damned either way, but he got it right.

  13. BenSix — on 23rd October, 2008 at 9:43 pm  

    “Anyway, since when have you liked George Galloway? Even though I disagree with you sometimes, your arguments always come across as well made and heartfelt. Mr. Galloway is a clown, and not worthy of your respect.”

    Surely we can agree that Bush and Blair are worthy of infinitely greater contempt?

    (Not that contempt is particularly useful…)

    (Admittedly, in another life I spent far too much time wittering about George Galloway…)

  14. Golam Murtaza — on 23rd October, 2008 at 9:53 pm  

    Agree with MaidMarian where she argues quality of the media is the issue. I’m a humble local newspaper reporter and can say that my own publication, in common with dozens of other similar ones across Britain, repeatedly fails to do its job well for one simple reason – lack of journalists. We’ve cut back and cut back till there’s hardly anyone left to go out and gather news. Incidentally, the decision to get rid of reporting staff is invariably made by the top managers of the company that owns my paper……people who have never worked as journalists themselves and wouldn’t know what a good news story was if it kicked them up the arse.

  15. MaidMarian — on 23rd October, 2008 at 10:02 pm  

    Golam Murtaza – Agree exactly, though I am in fact male!

    My local rag, the Watford Observer went from an outstanding broadsheet to a dreadful rag that barely reports any substantive news.

    Whilst I see where Rumbold is going with this, press freedom has to mean more than freedom to dumb down.

  16. Roger — on 24th October, 2008 at 2:15 am  

    “the BBC… paid for through tax, ”
    No it isn’t. the fact that the government controls the amount of the B.B.C.’s licence fees does give it control, but it’s not paid fot by tax.

  17. Rumbold — on 24th October, 2008 at 10:06 am  

    MaidMarian:

    “What I am not really sure Rumbold, and perhaps you would be kind enough to elaborate, is what you suggest. Some sort of blanket protection for all hacks? A totally unrestricted market? Presumably you want a lightening of libel laws? Privacy too? Press not made to pay court costs?”

    Whilst I would not go that far, libel laws are too restrictive in this country, as the burden of proof rests on the defendent to prove that he/she hasn’t libelled the other person. Switch that burden around, and that would provide an enormous shot in the arm to freedom of expression.

    “With all respect, the Murdoch press does not strike me as a timid beast cowed by an overmighty state.”

    But does Murdoch really contribute to press freedom in that way? Yes, he cannot be bullied, but he also exercises control over a number of titles. I personally have no problem with that, but one can see why the list compilers would.

    BenSix:

    “Surely we can agree that Bush and Blair are worthy of infinitely greater contempt?”

    Yes, in that they have done far more damage to Britain and the world then George Galloway ever could. But I suspect that there is room for all three.

    Roger:

    Just because they don’t call it a tax doesn’t mean that it isn’t one. Yes, you don’t have to own a TV. But you don’t have to work either, so on that basis income tax isn’t a tax.

  18. Roger — on 25th October, 2008 at 8:53 pm  

    I neither have a television set nor work, Rumbold. I don’t have to pay for a television license- though it’s a lot of effort not to do so- but I do pay income tax.

  19. Golam Murtaza — on 26th October, 2008 at 9:12 pm  

    Whoops…..sorry about the gender slip up there!

  20. Refresh — on 27th October, 2008 at 11:39 am  

    Anybody up for boycotting the Two Trollops: Brand and Ross?

    And the BBC for placing their investment in the pair above common decency?

  21. Rumbold — on 27th October, 2008 at 1:35 pm  

    Roger:

    I bet that there are more households that pay for TV licences then pay income tax.

    Refresh:

    I second that Refresh. It is a disgrace that we have to pay their salaries.

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