The coronavirus pandemic may threaten press freedom and worsen the crises that reporters around the world are facing, according to this year’s World Press Freedom Index, which evaluates the landscape for journalists in 180 countries and territories.
The report, published on Tuesday by the media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders, said the United States and Brazil were becoming models of hostility toward the news media. It also singled out China, Iran and Iraq for censoring coverage of the coronavirus outbreak.
The pandemic has already redefined norms. New laws that some governments have passed with the ostensible goal of slowing the spread of the virus — ones that broaden state surveillance, for instance — have raised concerns about long-term negative effects on the news media and freedom of expression.
The pandemic has allowed governments to “take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Christophe Deloire, the secretary general of Reporters Without Borders, said in a statement.
Press freedom in the United States continued to suffer under President Trump’s administration, according to the report, which ranked the country 45th out of 180, up three spots from last year. A “dangerous anti-press sentiment” as well as the arrest, physical assault, public denigration and harassment of journalists had trickled down to the local level, the report said.
China ranked 177th, the same as last year. Last month, China said it was expelling American journalists working for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal and The Washington Post, weeks after the Trump administration limited to 100 the number of Chinese citizens who could work in the United States for five state-run Chinese news organizations that are widely considered propaganda outlets.
Reporters at foreign news outlets in China were among those who aggressively reported on the coronavirus outbreak, including in the early days when the Chinese government sought to play down its severity.
In Iraq, officials this month fined Reuters and temporarily suspended the news agency’s license after it published a story that said the government was underreporting coronavirus cases.
The report also referenced oppressive policies in some countries in the Balkans and the European Union. In Hungary last month, lawmakers gave Prime Minister Viktor Orban the power to sidestep Parliament and suspend existing laws. The new legislation, which will further limit freedom of expression, may give Mr. Orban’s government more leeway to persecute journalists, critics say.
Still, Europe continued to be the continent where the news media had the most freedom, with Norway ranking first for the fourth consecutive year and Finland and Denmark in second and third place. Sweden fell to fourth place because of an increase in the online harassment of reporters.
At the bottom of the index, there was little change. North Korea fell one spot, taking over last place from Turkmenistan. Eritrea, which ranked third to last, was the lowest-ranked country in Africa. Haiti fell 21 spots to 83rd, the steepest drop of any nation. Journalists there lack financial resources and institutional support, and have been victims of intimidation and physical violence, particularly while covering protests, the report said.