At its best, journalism is a distillation of facts displayed before the public that allows people to make up their own minds about issues. Ideally, journalists are passionate, trustworthy and objective, but, most importantly, they should feel free to pursue stories without fear of any sort of reprisals.
At its worst, journalism is at the mercy of people with money and political power, offering the public (mis)information that predominantly supports those with power. Unfortunately, journalists around the world face censure and even violence and death when trying to report facts that undermine the status quo.
So where is the best place to be a journalist?
Reporters Without Borders recently released the Press Freedom Index for 2010 and the results are astonishing. The ranking of each country in the world is based on the number of violations against journalists reported in each country — such as murder, imprisonment, attacks and threats — as well as the amount of censorship that news media faces. The survey also considers how often those responsible for press freedom violations are disciplined, as well as the general level of self-censorship in each country.
According to the Press Freedom Index (PFI), the best place to be a journalist is Northern Europe. Finland, Iceland, Norway, Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland are all ranked in the top spots, though as a whole, the EU’s total press freedom has declined since 2009.
Iceland is in the process of implementing innovative legislation supporting freedom of expression and journalistic protection. The Icelandic Modern Media Initiative (IMMI) supports whistle-blowers and is designed “in favor of the fundamental cornerstones that are the base of democracies and thwart the trending of gagging, legal harassment and destruction of historical records.” Its creators and sponsors, including Birgitta Jónsdóttir, an Iceland Member of Parliament who achieved notoriety for her WikiLeaks role, predicts that the IMMI will make Iceland “an international transparency haven.” Painfully aware of the lack of journalistic freedom in other parts of the world, Jónsdóttir is still in the process of battling U.S. courts over U.S. government access to her Twitter account.
Joining the northern European Union as countries with high standards of journalistic integrity are New Zealand, Japan and Australia. If you want the journalistic freedom to pursue stories without fear of heavy censure or reprisal, these are definitely the best places to be a journalist.
As for Canada, our general journalistic integrity is declining. Falling from the previous year, Canada is ranked 21st out of 178 countries, just behind the U.S., whose ranking has not changed.
Prime Minister Stephen Harper was quick to restrict media access to the Canadian government when he took power. The press was banned from the corridor outside the cabinet room, questions were not allowed when photographing the prime minister and only Harper’s staff would decide which reporters were allowed to ask questions.
More recently reporters were escorted out of an event at the Museum of Civilization launching “The Year of India in Canada” Before Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff addressed the audience. With the questionable timing of the media’s forced exit, it is no wonder Canada’s PFI ranking is slipping.
However, places with the least amount of journalistic freedom are Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
The Philippines are also not a place where you want to be a journalist. In what is being called the “world’s worst ever attack on journalists,” 33 journalists were killed in the Philippines (ranked 156th in the PFI) and their bodies were placed in a mass grave in November of 2009. As elections were approaching, one side wished to silence criticism and authorized private armies to carry out the killings.
Around the world, journalists provide an essential service. Unfortunately, coercion and even death are a reality that too many journalists face. Iceland is setting the standard for ethical media. In what supporters hope will become a media haven without borders, the world is watching Iceland as they take the final steps to implement the IMMI. With this initiative, journalism everywhere will benefit.