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‘Downward Spiral’: UK Slips to 40th Place in Press Freedom Rankings

Published: May 4, 2018
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Reporters Without Borders warns Britain is approaching tipping point in wake of passage of Investigatory Powers Act

By Damien Gayle and cross-posted from The Guardian

Journalists in the UK are less free to hold power to account than those working in South Africa, Chile or Lithuania, according to an index of press freedom around the world.

Laws permitting generalised surveillance, as well as a proposal for a new espionage act that could criminalise journalists and whistleblowers as spies, were cited by Reporters Without Borders as it knocked the UK down two places from last year, to 40th out of 180 countries in its World Press Freedom Index.

In the past five years, the UK has slipped 12 places down the index. Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK bureau director, said this year’s ranking would have been worse were it not for a general decline in press freedom around the world, making journalists in Britain comparatively better off than those in countries such as Turkey and Syria.

RSF, which campaigns for free speech, warned of a general erosion of media freedom in English-speaking, democratic countries. The US, long considered a bastion of freedom of speech thanks to the first amendment of its constitution, also dropped two places, to 43rd. Canada fell four places, to 22nd, and New Zealand slipped eight places, to 13th.

“Donald Trump’s rise to power in the United States and the Brexit campaign in the United Kingdom were marked by high-profile media bashing, a highly toxic anti-media discourse that drove the world into a new era of post-truth, disinformation and fake news,” RSF said in a statement.

The organisation’s secretary general, Christophe Deloire, added: “The rate at which democracies are approaching the tipping point is alarming for all those who understand that if media freedom is not secure, then none of the other freedoms can be guaranteed.”

Among the concerns raised by RSF was the passage of the UK’s “menacing” Investigatory Powers Act last November, which met only token resistance within parliament, despite giving UK intelligence agencies and police the most sweeping surveillance powers in the western world

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