PARIS: Hatred of journalists whipped up by populist and authoritarian leaders is degenerating into violence across the world, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) warned Thursday.
And the number of countries where journalists can work safely is plummeting, its annual World Press Freedom Index revealed.Political leaders' hostility towards the media "has incited increasingly frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists," the report added. "If the political debate slides towards a civil war-style atmosphere, where journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger," RSF chief Christophe Deloire said. Press freedom was in good health in less than a quarter of the 180 countries covered by the index, with the United States sliding to 48th place. The period since President Donald Trump's election in 2016 has been one of the "American journalism community's darkest moments", the report added. It linked the president's "notorious anti-press rhetoric" with "terrifying harassment" aimed particularly at women and journalists of colour.
Murder and threats"Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection," it added. "Hatred of the media is now such that a gunman walked into the Capital Gazette newsroom in Annapolis, Maryland, in June and killed four journalists and one other staff member," the report added. The Paris-based watchdog fears that the rising tide of strongman leaders "no longer seem to know any limits", citing the gruesome murder of the Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi in Istanbul. India, the world's biggest democracy, slid two notches further into the red zone at 140th place. Six reporters were murdered there last year and RSF said critics of the Hindu nationalism espoused by its ruling party "are branded as 'anti-Indian' in online harassment campaigns".
Turkey, the world's biggest jailer of journalists, was among the worst countries.RSF said "repression continued to tighten on the few critical outlets that remain", with its biggest media group taken over by a pro-government conglomerate. It has also the dubious honour of being the only country to prosecute a journalist for reporting the Paradise Papers offshore investment leaks. Russia, which the report branded as another "pioneer of repression", continued to slide down the table to 149th place.