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European reporters working in increasingly 'intense climate of fear'

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European reporters working in increasingly 'intense climate of fear'
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Journalists in Europe and around the world are facing increasing hostility including violence and persecution according to the international media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (known as RSF in France).

Their latest Press Freedom Index, covering 180 nations, shows the number of countries regarded as 'safe' is continuing to decline. Safe is defined in this case as 'where journalists can work in complete security.'

Journalists working and living in fear

RSF found that security for reporters is declining in almost every region of the world and that includes some European countries that would previously have been thought of as safe for journalists.

RSF ranking of EU countries - world ranking in brackets

The Netherlands slipped four places because two reporters, who cover organised crime, have been forced to live under permanent police protection.

RSF found an increase in judicial harassment towards the media, pointing to Poland (down one to 59) where some reporters face jail terms for linking the head of the ruling party to what it called a questionable construction project.

In Bulgaria (11th) two journalists were arrested after spending several months investigating the misuse of EU funds.

A reporter’s house was set on fire in Serbia (down 14 at 90th), while journalists were murdered in Malta and Slovakia (down eight at 35th).

Italy moved up three to 43rd after Interior Minister and League Party leader Matteo Salvini suggested that journalist Roberto Saviano's police protection could be withdrawn after he criticised Salvini.

In addition to lawsuits and prosecutions, RSF said investigative reporters are liable to be the targets of every other kind of harassment whenever they lift the veil on corrupt practices.

But among European nations, it was Russia that came out worst at 149th on the list. RSF says the Kremlin uses arrests, arbitrary searches and draconian laws to keep the pressure on independent media and the internet.

Nevertheless, some European countries are still among the safest in the world to be a journalist.

Norway comes out on top of the 2019 index for the third year running while Scandinavian neighbour Finland moved up two places to second position.

An increase in cyber-harassment towards the media caused Sweden (third) to lose one place.

The rest of the world

Elsewhere in the world, the US fell three places to 48th in the global rankings, with RSF citing attacks on the press by leaders including US President Donald Trump contributing to "climate of fear".

“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”

For the first time, the United States has been added to the list of most dangerous countries for journalists.

The tipping point was last June when five employees at the Capital Gazette newspaper in Annapolis, Maryland were shot.

Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said in a statement: "The hatred of journalists that is voiced ... by unscrupulous politicians, religious leaders and businessmen has tragic consequences on the ground, and has been reflected in this disturbing increase in violations against journalists."

Authoritarian regimes have never been near the top of the list but in the past year, many have fallen even further.

Venezuela slid five places to 148th with journalists facing arrests and violence by security forces.

At the bottom of the index come Vietnam (176) and China (177).

North Korea came in at 179 and last place, 180, fell to Turkmenistan.

RSF singled out the murder of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi for special mention. He was murdered in the Saudi consulate in Istanbul last October.

The organisation said his killing sent a chilling message to journalists well beyond the borders of Saudi Arabia (down three at 172).