UK drops to 35 in World Press Freedom Index
The UK has dropped to 35 out of 180 countries in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF), in part due to a “worrying legal environment” for journalists in Northern Ireland.
The international NGO said the UK’s efforts to promote media freedom globally were undermined by the murder of Lyra McKee in 2019 and the arrests of investigative journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey in 2018.
RSF published a report on Northern Ireland earlier this month following a research mission to Belfast and Derry in early March.
Its report warned that the “heavy-handed treatment” of Mr Birney and Mr McCaffrey, whose arrest warrants were quashed in the High Court last year, “seemed clearly intended to make examples of them and create a chilling effect on whistleblowing and public interest reporting”.
In calculating the UK’s rank in the World Press Freedom Index, the NGO also noted the sentencing of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange to a “disproportionate” jail term of 50 weeks for breaking bail and the Home Office’s decision to greenlight the US extradition request.
It also noted concern over problematic provisions of counter-terrorism and crime legislation adopted in 2019, as well as the pursuit by London’s Metropolitan Police of the publication of leaked information from diplomatic cables as a criminal matter.
Rebecca Vincent, RSF UK bureau director, said: “With coronavirus and other converging crises presenting unprecedented threats to press freedom globally, it is more important than ever for democratic states to lead by example.
“The UK should be performing better on the World Press Freedom Index, and must address these domestic concerns as a matter of priority.
“Concrete steps should be taken to ensure the safety of journalists in the wake of Lyra McKee’s murder, and Julian Assange should be released – and certainly not extradited to the US.”