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Media Watch Group: Press Freedoms Greatest in Northern Europe

A leading media watch group says journalists in East Asia and the Middle East are among the most restricted in the world, while freedom of the press is thriving in northern Europe. Suzanne Presto in Washington has more.

Reporters Without Borders says journalists in Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands and other northern European nations have the freedom to cover the stories they want to cover, without pressure from outside sources, more so than anywhere else in the world. Meanwhile, North Korea ranks last for the third year in a row, with Burma, Vietnam, Saudi Arabia and Iran close behind.

The situation is also dire in China and Cuba. The organization says, between the two countries, a total of 53 journalists are in jail.

But the Washington representative for the international organization, Lucie Morillon, says working as a journalist is most dangerous in Iraq.

"Continuing war has made Iraq the most deadly place on earth for journalists in recent years and this is the big new thing in this index," she said. "We have 44 journalists and media assistants (EDS: Including Iraqi Journalists) killed there since fighting began in March 2003."

In its third annual survey of press freedom worldwide, Reporters Without Borders ranked 167 countries, reflecting the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists.

The report was based on a survey of media organizations, correspondents and others who assessed the working conditions in each nation. The investigation included questions about harassment, censorship, attacks, searches or imprisonment.

Some nations improved greatly since last year's survey. Ireland went from 17th place to an eight-way tie for first. Bosnia and Herzegovina jumped from 37th to 21st place.

But for some countries, there were big setbacks. Nicaragua fell from 34th to 52nd place after a journalist was killed, and Haiti slipped 25 spots to 125th on the index because of threats and attacks by supporters of former president Jean-Bertrand Aristide in the months before he was forced to resign.

The survey shows that the world's most powerful nations do not have a monopoly on press freedom. Ms. Morillon says small, poor nations, such as Cape Verde in Africa and El Salvador and Costa Rica in Central America rank in the top 40.

"It proves you can be a poor country and respect freedom of the press," she says. "There's no link between being rich and being able to respect human rights. So, yeah, we have small and impoverished democracies that appear high on the list such as El Salvador and Costa Rica in Central America."

The United States ranked 22nd out of the 167 countries. Reporters Without Borders cites the arrest of several journalists during political demonstrations, problems attaining press visas, and pressure to reveal confidential sources as reasons for the rating.

Ms. Morillon stresses that there is no link between the quality of the press in each nation and the nation's standing in the survey. She adds that Reporters Without Borders hopes countries that scored poorly will realize that their international image is at stake, and will try to improve their attitudes toward the press.