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Samoa rises in World Press Freedom rankings; Australia plunges

The World Press Freedom Index for 2020 has seen Samoa now rank more highly than Australia and rise one place in international standings despite the country’s implementation of a harsh defamation law. 

But Reporters without Borders (R.S.F.), which compiles the Index, suggests Samoa may soon lose its standing, after the Prime Minister, Tuilaepa Dr. Sailele Malielegaoi, warned journalists not to “play with fire” when criticising him and his Government.

Samoa ranks well above other Pacific Islands with poor press freedom records such as Papua New Guinea which sits at 46th place; Tonga at 50th; and Fiji in 52nd. 

With no drastic blemishes on its record like the murder or forced disappearance of journalists, Samoa’s press freedom rankings were not driven sharply downward last year. 

But recent reports on the obstruction of the information flow between the Government and the media suggest its spot at number 21 is not guaranteed.

The Asia-Pacific region saw the greatest increase in press freedom violations, largely stemming from treatment of journalists in Hong Kong during the pro-democracy protests and Singapore’s ‘fake news’ legislation that came into effect last October.

But Australia’s five place fall from grace to number 26 is the result of federal police raids on the home of a political reporter and on the headquarters of the Australian Broadcasting Corporation.

The R.S.F. called the moves “flagrant violations of the confidentiality of journalists’ sources and public interest journalism.”

The country’s defamation law, called “the harshest of its kind in a liberal democracy,” the Prime Minister’s own climate scepticism and obstruction of climate issue coverage, and the ownership of private media reduced to just two “giants” all contributed to the low ranking.

Finally this year, the local newswire service Australian Associated Press (A.A.P.) folded after 85 years in operation after being “deemed insufficiently profitable.”

New Zealand has also fallen two places from 2019. According to R.S.F. this is because of economically driven threats to media plurality, with the largest publishers hoping to merge into one to manage their finances better.

R.S.F. ranks life for journalists and journalism in 180 countries around the world.

In publishing this year’s results, it reveals just 7.79 per cent of countries have a ‘good’ press freedom situation, while nearly 50 per cent are in a very serious or difficult situation, an increase on last year. (CHECK). 

Altogether 21 countries sit at the bottom of the rankings, starting with Singapore at number 158 and ending with Turkmenistan at 179.

China is ranked 177 and Egypt is at 166. 

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