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Wednesday 26 April 2017

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Freedom of information is urged on French presidential campaign posters in Paris.

The press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is warning that media freedom is increasingly threatened under authoritarian regimes as well as in countries regarded as models of democracy.

The press rights group Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is warning that media freedom is increasingly threatened under authoritarian regimes as well as in countries regarded as models of democracy.

The Paris-based group says in its 2017 World Press Index, released on April 26, that violations of press freedom are no longer the prerogative of authoritarian regimes and dictatorships.

RSF says the number of countries where the situation for media is considered "good" or "fairly good" has fallen in the span of just a year, and so-called model democracies are no exception to the trend when it comes to a worsening situation for journalists.

Canada, ranked 22nd out of the 180 countries in the survey, has fallen four places in this year's index, while the United States, ranked 43rd, has fallen by two places. Even the Nordic countries -- which traditionally lead the RSF's annual index -- have dropped a few places in this year's index.

"The democracies that have traditionally regarded media freedom as one of the foundations on which they are built must continue to be a model for the rest of the world, and not the opposite," RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire said.

"By eroding this fundamental freedom on the grounds of protecting their citizens, the democracies are in danger of losing their souls," Deloire said.

RSF says that verbal attacks by U.S. President Donald Trump against media and journalists -- such as accusing them of being "among the most dishonest human beings on earth" and of deliberately spreading "fake news" -- compromise an American tradition of defending freedom of expression.

In Canada, at least six journalists were spied upon by police trying to identify sources, which reporters have a duty to protect, RSF notes.

Britain adopted a law extending the surveillance powers of the intelligence services in late 2016.

'Ever Darker Map'

RSF’s annual press-freedom index includes a world map in which countries are categorized by different colors depending on the situation of press freedom there: white indicates "good," yellow "fairly good," orange "problematic," red "bad," and black indicates "very bad."

"The global indicator calculated by RSF has never been so high, which means that media freedom is under threat now more than ever," the nongovernmental organization says.

RSF says that the 2017 index shows the "ever darker world map" as a total of 21 countries are now colored black on the press freedom map, and 51 -- two more than the last year -- are colored red. In all, the situation has worsened in nearly two-thirds of the 180 countries covered in the index, RSF says.

Staying At The Bottom

At the bottom of the index, Turkmenistan has held on to its 178th-place ranking -- a ranking higher than only North Korea and Eritrea.

RSF says any criticism of President Gurbanguly Berdymukhammedov is inconceivable in Turkmenistan, where the government has total control over media.

The government has intensified its harassment of the few remaining correspondents of foreign- based independent media and also continues its campaign to remove all satellite dishes, denying the public of one of its last chances to access alternative news, RSF says.

Turkmenistan’s neighbors, Azerbaijan, Iran, and Uzbekistan are all colored black on RSF's 2017 world map, meaning that the situation of press freedom in these countries is classified as "very bad."

Russia, Belarus, Kazakhstan, and Tajikistan are among the countries where the situation for press rights is "bad," while Georgia, Armenia, Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, and Ukraine are ranked among the index's "orange" countries, where RSF says the media-freedom situation is considered a "noticeable problem."

The index's "orange" countries also include Bosnia-Herzegovina, Serbia, Croatia, Kosovo, and Montenegro, while Macedonia has been classified as a "red" country.

Afghanistan is also among the states classified as "red" for press freedom. RSF says that "the courageous efforts" by Afghan journalists to fulfill their reporting mission are frustrated by constant security threats posed by the Taliban and Islamic State extremists.

RSF's World Press Freedom Index, published annually since 2002, measures the level of media freedoms on the basis of pluralism, media independence, and respect of the safely and freedom of journalists.

The 20017 index takes account of violations that occurred between January 1 and December 31, 2016.

With reporting by Farangis Najibullah

The president and rector of the Central European University, Michael Ignatieff, speaks during a press conference in Budapest last month.

The rector and president of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Michael Ignatieff, has urged Brussels to support his institution and back EU legal action against Budapest.

BRUSSELS -- The rector and president of the Central European University (CEU) in Budapest, Michael Ignatieff, has urged Brussels to support his institution and back EU legal action against Budapest.

Speaking on April 25 at an open event in the European Parliament in Brussels hosted by five political groups, Ignatieff said he needed the support of Europe in an ongoing dispute that the CEU has with Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban's government -- a dispute that could force the CEU to shut down its program in Budapest.

"I have support in Washington. I have support in Berlin, I have support in Budapest, as I have said. I have got support in Munich," Ignatieff said. "It is now time to get some support in Brussels."

Speaking to RFE/RL after the event, Ignatieff said he specifically wanted two things from political leaders in Brussels.

"I would like the members of the center-right coalition in the European Parliament to say, 'You know, shutting down a university is a very bad thing and you are crossing a red line.' I would like them to say that, frankly," Ignatieff said.

"I would like the commission to give serious consideration, as I think they are doing, to a legal case against Hungary for violating some fundamental elements of the European single act," Ignatieff said. "If we can get those two things, it would help."

Orban is due to debate the situation in Hungary at a plenary session of the European Parliament in Brussels on April 26.

He is expected to face criticism from members of his own political faction in the European Parliament, the European Peoples Party (EPP).

According to RFE/RL sources, however, the EPP is unlikely to expel Orban's conservative Fidesz party from the Brussels-based EPP despite growing calls to do so from other political parties within the transnational organization.

On April 26, the European Commission may also launch infringement procedures against Hungary on a number of issues, including its recently adopted law concerning higher education.

In March, a bill was rushed through the Hungarian parliament that requires foreign universities in Hungary to have a campus and to provide similar courses in their country of origin.

The bill, which was signed into law on April 10, could force the CEU to leave the country.

On April 24, Ignatieff told top EU officials in Brussels that Orban was carrying out a "politically motivated attack" against free institutions like the CEU -- essential taking the university hostage -- in order to serve a political agenda.

Speaking at the Free University of Brussels, Ignatieff said he had very little interest in Orban’s own political agenda. But he said Orban should "leave us the hell alone."

The CEU, which was founded by U.S. billionaire George Soros, has recently become the focal point of political debate in Hungary.

Orban has accused Soros of interfering in Hungary’s internal affairs and has launched a crackdown on organizations connected to him.

Ignatieff said the CEU's academic freedom meant it must remain independent not only from Hungary’s government but also from Soros. "I don't take orders from George Soros," he said.

With reporting by Rikard Jozwiak in Brussels and dpa

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"Watchdog" is a blog with a singular mission -- to monitor the latest developments concerning human rights, civil society, and press freedom. We'll pay particular attention to reports concerning countries in RFE/RL's broadcast region.

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