RSF expresses serious concern over freedom of expression in Bangladesh | The Daily Star
09:04 PM, April 20, 2016 / LAST MODIFIED: 09:13 PM, April 20, 2016

World Press Freedom Index-2016

RSF expresses serious concern over freedom of expression in Bangladesh

Bangladesh has moved two notches up to 144th position among 180 countries in the World Press Freedom Index-2016.

In its flagship annual report released today, the Paris-based advocacy group Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) however voiced serious concern over the state of freedom of expression in Bangladesh.

"In Bangladesh, it is a bad idea to criticise the constitution or Islam, the state religion. Journalists and bloggers who refuse to submit to censorship or to censor themselves on these subjects risk life imprisonment or the death penalty," observed RSF, an organisation that promotes the cause of free press. 

"Outspoken secularists are also targeted by Islamist militants,” the report says.

The media are nonetheless quite diverse and fairly outspoken on less sensitive issues, it added.

The index reflects the intensity of the attacks on journalistic freedom and independence by governments, ideologies and private-sector interests during the past year (2015).

Despite the two-notch elevation, Bangladesh’s position is the lowest, except Pakistan’s, in the South Asian scene. The index has placed Pakistan at 147th position, Sri Lanka at 141st, India at 133 rd, Afghanistan at 120th, Nepal at 105th and Bhutan at 94th.

Analysing the overall global press freedom scenario, the RSF said it is “indicative of a climate of fear and tension combined with increasing control over newsrooms by authoritarian and oppressive governments and private-sector interests".

The 2016 edition of the World Press Freedom Index shows that there has been a deep and disturbing decline in respect for media freedom at both the global and regional levels.

RSF prepares the index calculating points based on violation of media freedom. The higher the figure, the worse the situation. The global indicator has gone from 3719 points last year to 3857 points this year, a 3.71 percent  deterioration. The decline since 2013 is 13.6 percent.

Bangladesh has scored 45.94 points compared to 8.59 points scored by the top-ranked country Finland and 83.92 points allocated to the bottom country, Eritrea, in the list.

Five highest ranking countries are; Finland (1st), Netherlands (2nd), Norway (3rd), Denmark (4th) and New Zealand (5th) while the five lowest ranked countries are Eritrea (180th), North Korea (179th), Turkmenistan (178th), Syria (177th) and China (176th).

Among the major world powers, the United States' ranking, which suffered a huge slide (49th position in 2015) since 2009 (20th), is promoted to 41st position this year.

However, in its short note titled ‘Freedom ends where national security begins’, RSF said: "US media freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered a major obstacle – the government’s war on whistleblowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter-terrorism.”

"Furthermore, US journalists are still not protected by a federal ‘shield law’ guaranteeing their right not to reveal their sources and other confidential work-related information."

Russia also marked some improvement in terms of ranking from 152nd last year to 148th this time.

In the ranking, United Kingdom slipped four notches down from 34th to 38th.

"Terrorist attacks have led to the adoption of draconian security legislation. The government reacted to the London public transport bombings in 2005 with a Terrorism Act the following year that restricts freedom of expression," RSF observed.

Saudi Arabia's position slipped one notch down from 164th to 165th. RSF said: "There are no really free media in Saudi Arabia and all journalists censor themselves. The Internet is the only space where freely-reported information and views can circulate, albeit at great risk to the Internet’s citizen-journalists. Like professional journalists, they are watched closed and critical comments are liable to lead to arrest and trial.”

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