Press freedom in South Africa
South Africa ranks 44th out of 168 countries in Reporters Without Borders' (RSF's) latest index of press freedom - down from 31st position in the 2005 index, but still well within the top 50 countries said to have "genuine press freedom".
RSF's fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index - covering the period from 1 September 2005 to 1 September 2006 - reflects the degree of freedom journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by each state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.
Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands share first place on the 2006 index, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation or physical reprisals towards members of the media.
Denmark dropped from joint first to 19th position as a result of the Prophet Mohammad cartoon row, after which journalists required police protection due to threats against them.
The bottom end of the index remains unchanged, with Eritrea (166th), Turkmenistan (167th) and North Korea (168th) occupying the last three spots as authorities there continued a clampdown on independent media activity.
RSF said in its 2006 press freedom report that a number of Eritrean journalists have been imprisoned in secret for more than five years, that Turkmenistan's "president-for-life" Separmurad Nyazov is willing to use "extreme violence" against those who criticise him, and that North Korean leader Kim Jong-il totally controls the media in his country.
'War on terror'
Meanwhile, the "steady erosion of press freedom in the United States, France and Japan is extremely alarming," the RSF said, attributing this to a clampdown on press freedoms mainly under the pretext of "national security" in relation the "war on terror".
"The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognise the media's right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism," the RSF said.
Press freedom in Africa
Within Africa, South Africa comes in sixth position, after Benin (23rd overall), Namibia (26th), Mauritius (32nd), Ghana (34th) and Mali (joint 35th).
Changes in political leadership led to an improved ranking for Togo, which climbed 29 places to 66th following the 2005 death of President Gnassingbe Eyadema and internationally backed efforts by his son and successor to make peace with the opposition.
A coup in Mauritania in August 2005 brought an end to the heavy censorship of local media, and the country has since risen from 138th in 2005 to 77th, one of the biggest improvements in the index.
"Each year new countries in less developed parts of the world move up the index to positions above some European countries or even the United States," the RSF said. "This is good news and shows once again that, even though very poor, countries can be very observant of freedom of expression."
How the index is compiled
Reporters Without Borders compiles its index by asking 14 freedom of expression organisations on five continents, 130 correspondents around the world, as well as journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists, to answer 50 questions relating to the state of press freedom in 168 countries.
The questionnaire includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of issues, searches and harassment), and registers the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for such violations.
It also takes account of the legal situation affecting the news media - such as penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly in certain areas, and the existence of a regulatory body - and the behaviour of the authorities towards the state-owned news media and the foreign press.
It also takes account of the main obstacles to the free flow of information on the internet.
Article last updated: September 2007