Russia’s invasion of Ukraine has also led to another casualty: freedom of the press in Russia, according to a new report by Reporters Without Borders.
The media advocacy group has ranked Russia near the bottom of its 2022 World Press Freedom index, which was issued Tuesday in conjunction with World Press Freedom Day. The annual index classifies a record 28 countries as “having very bad media freedom.”
The Reporters Without Borders, also known as RSF, says Moscow’s assault on a free press ramped up as Russian troops invaded Ukraine through such means as propaganda, laws aimed at discrediting credible media, website bans and arrests.
Russia is just one of several countries highlighted in the updated index whose governments have either curtailed or outright suppressed media freedoms. They include:
– Afghanistan, where the Taliban pledged to uphold press freedom after regaining power last year, but instead imposed restrictive laws and blocked female journalists from the airwaves, and where media outlets are facing financial hardship after bans on entertainment and advertising cut revenue;
– Hong Kong, where pro-democracy news sites have been shut down after a series of raids and arrests since Beijing approved a sweeping national security law in 2020 after massive anti-government protests the year before;
– Ethiopia, which has imposed communications blackouts and restricted access amid the war in the Tigray region;
– and Myanmar, where the 2021 coup that overthrew the civilian government led to journalists being detained, media licenses revoked, and many news outlets driven back into exile, marking a 10-year setback for media rights.
“There is a contagion effect with authoritarian regimes,” said Clayton Weimers, the U.S. deputy director of RSF, “and when we allow a culture of impunity to exist where authoritarians are allowed to go after journalists, harass them, arrest them, beat them in the streets and kill them, it has a knock-on effect. It emboldens that same authoritarian to do it again next time, and it emboldens other authoritarians who are watching to do the same.”
More troubling, Weimars told VOA, is the impact media polarization and disinformation has on society: “In 2022, it’s really undeniable that media polarization and information chaos are really fueling social divisions in ways that are pretty new.”
Democracies play an important role in safeguarding press freedom. But this rise in disinformation and propaganda is having a disastrous effect on independent news, RSF finds.
The 2022 index reveals the United States made a slight improvement compared with 2021, but journalists and media outlets are flagging barriers to coverage, including of state governments and protests.
“We typically find that this is either due to just a blatant disregard for the laws governing open records or meetings, or they’re simply misinterpreting them,” Beth Francesco, the senior director of the National Press Club Journalism Institute, told VOA. “An individual is misinterpreting whether a journalist can be present at a particular event.”
Richard Green contributed to this report.