The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, compiled by Reporters Without Borders (Reporters Sans Frontieres) shows Australia plummeting five places from its position last year and now sitting at number 26 globally.
The World Press Freedom Index is a report that gauges the independence, integrity, and freedom of journalism in 180 countries. Here is an excerpt from their website explaining the methodology:
HOW THE INDEX IS COMPILED
The degree of freedom available to journalists in 180 countries is determined by pooling the responses of experts to a questionnaire devised by RSF. This qualitative analysis is combined with quantitative data on abuses and acts of violence against journalists during the period evaluated. The criteria evaluated in the questionnaire are pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.
A table on the website shows the full ranking, from Norway at number 1 to North Korea at number 180. The United States is ranked at number 45.
While comparatively, a ranking of 26 may not appear so bad, it belies the perception of autonomy and freedom Australians have regarding our media and society in general.
The report accompanying the index identifies some key elements that have contributed to Australia’s fall in status.
“In 2019, Australian journalists became more aware than ever of the fragility of press freedom in their country, whose constitutional law contains no press freedom guarantees and recognises no more than ‘implied freedom of political communication’”, says the report, referring to the Australian Federal Police raids on the ABC and journalist Annika Smethurst.
The report also cited the concentration of media ownership into two large conglomerates: Nine Entertainment Co and News Corp.
“The situation became even worse in early 2020 when the Australian Associated Press (AAP), the country’s only national news agency, ceased operating after 85 years because it was deemed insufficiently profitable by its two main shareholders, News Corp and Nine Entertainment,” says the report.
The report also noted the potential impact of COVID-19 on the viability of many media organisations – something that will be more clearly reflected in the 2021 index.
The implication of the index and report by RSF is that autonomous, inclusive, un-impeded journalism in Australia is at risk.
With regional and independent publications already suffering attrition or demise, the survival of entities such as Star Observer and other community-serving publications is imperative.
In the face of a political shift to conservatism and a proposed Religious Discrimination Bill that will further erode civil liberties, it is the duty of the Australian public to enforce and preserve the independence and integrity of our media.