Finland ranks second in the annual World Press Freedom Index published on Tuesday.
The index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders, ranks countries and regions according to the level of freedom available to journalists. RSF describes it as a “snapshot” of media pluralism, the quality of legislative framework and safety of journalists, and the independence of the media.
Norway ranks at the top of this year’s index with Denmark 3rd and Sweden 4th. Netherlands, Jamaica, Costa Rica, Switzerland, New Zealand and Portugal round out the top 10.
Looking at some other countries Germany ranks 11th, Canada 16th, Australia 26th, France 34th, United Kingdom 35th, USA 45th, Japan 66th. At the bottom of the World Press Freedom Index Russia ranks 149th, Iraq 162nd, China 177th, and Turkmenistan in last place at 179.
This year Finland gets credit for initiatives drawn up to limit the abuse of freedom of speech in the form of hate speech, stalking and targeting of journalists and other professionals on social media.
“Unfortunately such behaviour was encouraged by some politicians by means of their own actions, and so far both the government and parliament have failed to take pertinent action in accordance with guidelines proposed by many advocacy groups” says the RSF report.
The report says that due to “vagueness and weakness” of existing legal norms, some law enforcement officials have been unwilling to investigate notorious cases.
Coronavirus is a threat to press freedoms
One of the main areas highlighted in the 2020 Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index is the impact the coronavirus pandemic can have on free and independent journalism.
RSF says there are already signs that the global health crisis could impact the future of journalism, by increasing the aggressiveness of authoritarian rulers; increasing suspicion and hatred of the media; and the economic crisis which threatens quality journalism.
“We live in a time of growing uncertainty and mistrust. Societies are under severe pressure. The role of free media is more precious than ever, but at the same time, tackling politically sensitive issues provokes backlash from the media and journalists” says Mika Aaltola, Director of the Finnish Institute of International Affairs FIIA, in response to the new report.
The President of Reporters Without Borders in Finland Jarmo Mäkelä says that even in a model country like Finland there are state and social pressures “for a kind of obedience in the context of the coronavirus crisis.”
“Investigative and critical journalism maybe seen a socially problematic or undesirable” he adds.