Australia falls in World Press Freedom Index, with report citing PM, media mergers and ‘draconian’ laws

Australia has slipped two places in the Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index, coming in at number 21 out of 180 countries.

The report noted the merger of Nine and Fairfax, conservative Prime Minister Scott Morrison, “draconian legislation” and Australia’s tough defamation laws all played a part in putting the country’s media at risk.

Australia placed behind New Zealand, Canada and Costa Rica

“Australia has good public media, but the concentration of media ownership is one of the highest in the world,” the report said. “It became even more concentrated in July 2018, when Nine Entertainment took over Fairfax Media group. Mainly concerned with business efficiencies and cost-cutting, the new entity resembles Australia’s other media giant, Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation.”

The report also had a dig at “very conservative” Morrison, and noted the government had “abandoned any attempt to regulate the media market”.

“The space left for demanding investigative journalism has also been reduced by the fact that independent investigative reporters and whistleblowers face draconian legislation,” the report continued. “Australia adopted one of the toughest defamation laws in the world’s liberal democracies in 2018, while its laws on terrorism and national security make covering these issues almost impossible.

“At the same time, the migrant detention centres run by government contractors on the islands of Manus and Nauru are in practice inaccessible to journalists and have become news and information black holes.”

The top 10

The overall tone of the report was one of fear and concern, noting a rising “hatred of journalists” has “degenerated into violence”.

“The number of countries regarded as safe, where journalists can work in complete security, continues to decline, while authoritarian regimes continue to tighten their grip on the media.”

Norway held onto its number one position in the Index, which reported: “Today, the media are free and journalists are not subject to censorship or political pressure. Violence against journalists and media outlets is rare, although several cases of racist cyber-harassment have been reported.”

Turkmenistan placed last due to a government-controlled media, highly-censored internet, and the harassment, assault and death of journalists.

Australia’s place in the world

The Index relies on a questionnaire of 87 questions – translated into 20 languages – posed to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists. It is then combined with data on abuses and violence against journalists during the assessment period.

Zero is the best possible score, while 100 is the worst.

Chart-topping Norway had 7.82, Australia was on 16.55, whilst Turkmenistan had 85.44.


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