UK Drops Down Ranking in World Press Freedom Index

The threat to press freedom posed by Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 has been blamed as one of the causes for a decline in the UK’s ranking in World Press Freedom Index this year.

The UK slipped down two places from last year coming in at 40th out of 180 countries in terms of respect for press freedom in the Reporters Without Borders index published this week. Countries including Chile, South Africa or Lithuania are higher than the UK in the list. 

“Section 40 of the Crime and Courts Act 2013 continues to pose a threat to press freedom; it contains a cost-shifting provision that, if implemented, could hold publishers liable for the costs of all claims made against them, regardless of merit,” RSF said.

The News Media Association has led an industry campaign against the Section 40 proposals which the industry believes constitute a direct and grave threat to press freedom that could lead to the closure of newspapers.

Law Commission proposals around leaks of Government information, the Investigatory Powers Act, and detentions of journalists were cited by RSF as other factors for the decline in ranking.

Responding to the announcement, the Lib Dems said laws such as the Investigatory Powers Act undermined press freedom and investigative journalism which are “essential elements of any true democracy.”

Shadow Home Secretary Brian Paddick said: “The surveillance state Theresa May is building using the provisions of the Investigatory Powers Act, which allow the bulk collection of our personal information and that of journalists, undermine the very freedoms essential to a healthy democracy.

“The drastic tumble down the world rankings in recent years shows that this Government does not care for our freedoms or our international reputation.

“The crackdown on journalistic freedoms, taken together with the surge in the number of freedom of information requests being refused by Whitehall, shows how determined this government is to avoid being held to account. And the Labour Party’s ineffective opposition has allowed them to get away with it.”

Rebecca Vincent, RSF UK bureau director, said: “We remain concerned about the trend of deteriorating press freedom both globally and in the UK, particularly now with a general election approaching, as a vibrant media and a robust public debate are essential to the democratic process.”

“The UK government must act now to reverse this worrying trend and ensure that it is respecting and protecting press freedom in line with the UK’s international commitments.”

The drop in the UK’s ranking fits in with a broader trend in this year’s Index of leading democracies falling, including the United States, Chile, and New Zealand, RSF said, citing “high-profile media bashing” and “toxic anti-media discourse” surrounding Brexit contributing to a “new global era of post-truth, disinformation, and fake news.”

“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”, RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Where will this downward spiral take us?”