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Report: Press Freedom Faltered in 2014

People hold a photograph of James Foley, the freelance journalist killed by the IS group, during a memorial service in Irbil, 350 kilometers (220 miles) north of Baghdad, Iraq, Sunday, Aug. 24, 2014.

Press freedom declined around the world in 2014. A new report by Reporters without Borders shows two-thirds of the countries surveyed worsened in the last year. Armed conflicts and non-state actors like the Islamic State group powered much of that decline.

With journalists executed in Iraq, arrested in the United States, and targeted by governments seeking to control information, media workers on every continent faced increasing threats in 2014.

Reporters Without Borders U.S. Director Delphine Halgand told VOA she knew the negative statistics were coming after a bloody year.

World Press Freedom Index

The World Press Freedom Index compiled by the media watchdog Reporters Without Borders measures the overall level of violations of freedom of information in 180 countries.

The countries that ranked in the top five are:

1. Finland
2. Norway
3. Denmark
4. The Netherlands
5. Sweden

The countries that recieved the five lowest rankings are:

176. China
177. Syria
178. Turkmenistan
179. North Korea
180. Eritrea

"2014 has been marked by an extreme level of violence with 66 journalists killed. We have an explosion of journalists kidnapped in Syria, Iraq, Libya, Ukraine. At the end of last year, there were at least 40 journalists still kidnapped," said Halgand.

Violations against press freedom increased 8 percent since 2013, affecting the majority of the 180 countries surveyed. Finland earned the top mark for the fifth year, helping Europe and the Balkans rate best, despite drops in press freedom scores in the region. The Middle East and North Africa are in last place.

Ongoing conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Ukraine took a devastating toll. And rebel groups like Islamic State and Boko Haram cracked down harshly, using religion to justify brutal violence against reporters.

The United States plummeted in the rankings, dropping three spots to 49th place. Halgand said that drop is in part due to the detention of journalists covering a killing in the central state of Missouri that triggered weeks of protests.

Near the bottom of the list for another year is Iran. The country has consistently ranked nearly last since the first World Press Freedom Index in 2002. Dozens of journalists remain in detention there - including U.S. journalist Jason Rezaian, The Washington Post bureau chief in Tehran.

Rezaian has been held since July, although no charges have been filed against him. Sitting alongside Helgand in Washington, Rezaian's brother Ali implored Iranian authorities to release the journalist.

"It's clear this is a mistake, it's a misunderstanding. Jason hasn't done anything wrong. He has no affiliation with the U.S. government. He has nothing to do with any other activities that are going on. And he really should be let go," said Ali.

The future for Rezaian, who is in solitary confinement, remains unclear.

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