Pakistan moves up 7 places in RSF’s press freedom index

Published May 3, 2023
Pakistan moved up seven spots in RSF’s annual press freedom index.—Screenshot via RSF
Pakistan moved up seven spots in RSF’s annual press freedom index.—Screenshot via RSF

Pakistan moved up seven places in 2022 according to the annual World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Wednesday.

According to the index published to coincide with Press Freedom Day by the RSF, a non-profit that defends and promotes freedom of information, Pakistan now ranks 150 out of 180 countries, whereas it stood at 157 in the previous year’s index.

In its country profile, the RSF said “under the guise of protecting journalism, Pakistani law is used to censor any criticism” of the powers that be and that the regulator Pakistan Electronic Media Regulatory Authority (Pemra) “is concerned less with regulating the media sector than with regulating the content it publishes”.

It also mentioned that media houses, even privately owned, “are dependent on state sector ads and legal announcements for their funding, resulting in information ministries at the provincial and national levels threatening to withdraw advertising in order to influence editorial policy”.

The index said Pakistan “is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, with three to four murders each year that are often linked to cases of corruption or illegal trafficking and which go completely unpunished”.

These findings were backed by the Pakistan Press Freedom Report prepared by the Freedom Network released on Monday, which said at least 140 cases of threats and attacks against journalists, media professionals and media organisations were reported in Pakistan over the past year, indicating an annual increase of over 60 per cent.

India, on the other hand, dropped to 161 in the index compared to its 2022 ranking of 150, falling from “problematic” to “very bad”, thanks to “media takeovers by oligarchs close to Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi”.

Norway and North Korea remain best and worst, respectively, for press freedom, according to the 21st annual report, which was published on World Press Freedom Day.

Overall, the environment for journalists was rated as “bad” in 70 per cent of the 180 countries in the NGO’s annual ranking, and “good” in just eight countries.

The worst countries in the new ranking, apart from North Korea, were Vietnam, “which has almost completed its hunt of independent reporters and commentators,” and China, “the world’s biggest jailer of journalists”.

The United States fell three places to 45th, in part due to a deteriorating security situation for journalists.

The biggest falls were seen in Peru (down 33 places to 110), Senegal (down 31 to 104) and Haiti (down 29 to 99th).

Major improvement was seen in Brazil, up 18 to 92 thanks to the departure of far-right president Jair Bolsonaro.

The Middle East and North Africa remain the most dangerous region for journalists, RSF said, while Europe remains the safest, though attacks on journalists in Germany saw it drop five places.

The ranking is compiled by combining data on abuses committed against journalists with hundreds of surveys sent to journalists, academics and human rights activists.

Misinformation and AI

Journalism is being battered by propaganda and increasingly sophisticated fakes, aided by AI software and a failure of oversight from tech companies, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said Wednesday.

This year, RSF put a spotlight on the myriad forms of misinformation that are “drowning out” trustworthy news — a problem compounded by the rapid evolution of artificial intelligence.

“It is the tech industry that allows disinformation to be produced, distributed and amplified,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire told AFP.

“Reliable information is drowned in a deluge of disinformation,” Deloire added.

“We are less and less able to perceive the differences between the real and the artificial, the true and the false.”

He said a prime example was Elon Musk, who took over Twitter in late 2022.

The report criticises his new paid-for verification system, saying Musk was pushing “an arbitrary, payment-based approach to information to the extreme”.

The report used the example of Midjourney, an AI programme that generates high-quality images that are “feeding social media with increasingly plausible and undetectable fake ‘photos’”, such as those of Donald Trump being manhandled by police and a comatose Julian Assange in a straitjacket that recently went viral.

Systematic propaganda

Traditional forms of political interference are also gaining ground in many countries, RSF said.

Some two-thirds of countries have political actors who are “often or systematically involved in massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns”, it said, highlighting the cases of Russia, India and China.

They are assisted by a vast disinformation industry.

RSF recently supported a consortium of investigative journalists working on “Forbidden Stories”, a project which uncovered the activities of Israeli firm “Team Jorge” which specialises in producing disinformation.

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