Democracy Rising

"Those who make peaceful revolution impossible will make violent revolution inevitable" ~ President John F. Kennedy

Thursday, October 20, 2005

2005 Press Freedom

Well after today's appalling events in Kyrgyzstan, a story where some positives can be found. Reporters San FrontiƩres released its Annual Press Freedom Index today (has it really been a year since the last one?). Lets take a look at some of the notables, before seeing just how Press Freedom has improved/declined in the colour revolution states.

North Korea comes in last place for the millionth time, with other internationally isolated nations such as Turkmenistan not far behind. China manages to jump a couple of places, up to 159 out of 167 (hardly inspiring). The United States fell more than 20 places to 44th, 'mainly because of the imprisonment of New York Times reporter Judith Miller and legal moves undermining the privacy of journalistic sources'. Canada (21st) and France (30th) also slipped several places. The UK meanwhile rose somewhat to 24th, whilst India climbed to 106th (I would have thought this would be much higher, especially considering authoritarian nations such as Togo and United Arab Emirates are ranked above. Is the Kashmir conflict to blame for this position?)

Now to the Colour Revolution nations. The former Yugoslavia (now Serbia and Montenegro) rises 12 places from last year to 65th. Georgia sadly slips 5 places to 99th just behind Turkey. The arrest of Shalva Ramishvili, an investigative journalist charged with extortion, no doubt had an effect on this. Ukraine, which has had a full year of 'Democracy' under Yushchenko, dramtically climbs 26 positions to 112th, after many years on par with the likes of Belarus and Uzbekistan. Kyrgyzstan slips 4 places to 111th, with many reports coming from that country of self-censorship. See this RadioFreeEurope/RadioLiberty article about a change in management at a public/private television company. Despite the Cedar revolution, and an entrenching of Democracy Lebanon falls out of the top 100, from last years 87th to this years 108th. The spate of attacks on anti-Syrian figures, such as TV journalist May Chidiac just a few weeks ago and George Hawi in June, is likely to have dented their position.

Some nations with the Democracy spotlight upon them, such as Kazakhstan, have actually risen. The Central Asian giant climbed to 119th from 131st, Moldova stepped in to 74th from 78th. Others have, as would be expected, tumbled down the rankings - Armenia 102nd from 83rd in 2004. Azerbaijan, the setting for next months parliamentary elections, also dropped 5 to 141st. Belaurs, fell 8 places - although when you're rubbing shoulders with Zimbabwe and Vietnam it hardly matters.

So the general trend suggests that those countries moving towards Democracy do encourage Freedom of Speech to flourish. Ukraine has made up some real ground after a series of depressing years, whilst Serbia and Montenegro joined the most transparent of Democracies as they move towards the EU. The nations without strong opposition, and powerful Presidencies tend to be the worst off - hardly an encouraging year for Georgia or Kyrgyzstan.

However, as I earlier touched upon, Democracy and Freedom of Speech do not necessarily go hand in hand. Lebanon is making real inroads with perfecting its liberal system, yet the menacing hand of car bombings is creating fear amongst journo's. Whereas before an article attacking Syria posed no threat to the status quo, there is now a need for meddling influences to intimidate those who make such demands. India, is indeed the world's largest democracy, yet due to several sepratist conflicts its media is regarded as partially free. It's vital to remember influences outside of government control play a part in Press Freedom. The news is good though. The gap between the few really opressive states (Iran, North Korea) and countries even just 15 places above, is far wider than in previous years. And the gap between these nations and the most free, is a whole lot smaller.


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