Special Report

How Free Is the Press in the World's Richest Countries

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30. South Korea
> Population: 51,709,098
> GDP per capita: $43,029
> Freedom of the press score in 2020: 23.7 — 42nd out of 180 (“satisfactory”)
> Freedom of the press score in 2019: 24.9 — 41st out of 180 (“satisfactory”)
> Worst area of press freedom: Media independence
> Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

The Republic of Korea fell more than 30 places in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index over a decade. During that time, journalists at two public broadcasters objected to the government selecting their bosses for them. This ended when the Moon administration came to power in 2016, succeeding the government of President Park Geun-hye, who was impeached for corruption. Journalists have been free to report on corruption in South Korea, however, they can be imprisoned for defamation, and the government is especially sensitive about stories involving North Korea.

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29. Japan
> Population: 126,264,931
> GDP per capita: $43,236
> Freedom of the press score in 2020: 28.9 — 66th out of 180 (“problematic”)
> Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.4 — 67th out of 180 (“problematic”)
> Worst area of press freedom: Transparency
> Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Press freedom in Japan ranks behind the majority of the other richest countries in the world. A law that can put journalists and whistleblowers in prison for a decade for obtaining information in a manner deemed to be illegal has had a chilling effect and contributes to businesses undue influence over the press. Members of the press also frequently complain of a climate of mistrust and a system that discriminates against freelancers and foreign journalists since 2012, when Shinzo Abe was elected prime minister again.

Still, certain newspapers remain trusted and widely circulated in the country.

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28. New Zealand
> Population: 4,917,000
> GDP per capita: $43,953
> Freedom of the press score in 2020: 10.7 — 9th out of 180 (“good”)
> Freedom of the press score in 2019: 10.8 — 7th out of 180 (“good”)
> Worst area of press freedom: Media independence
> Best area of press freedom: Environment and self-censorship

New Zealand has been ranked ninth in the latest World Press Freedom Index, falling two places since last year. The report says the country’s media is free, but “its independence and pluralism are often undermined by the profit imperatives of media groups trying to cut costs.”

Concerns about the Official Information Act have been raised as it prevents journalists from doing their job properly by allowing government agencies to take a long time before responding to information requests and also permitting them to charge for such information.

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27. Italy
> Population: 60,297,396
> GDP per capita: $44,197
> Freedom of the press score in 2020: 23.7 — 41st out of 180 (“satisfactory”)
> Freedom of the press score in 2019: 25.0 — 43rd out of 180 (“satisfactory”)
> Worst area of press freedom: Media independence
> Best area of press freedom: Infrastructure

Although Italy has moved up two spots in the World Press Freedom Index, and the environment in which journalists are working is still “satisfactory,” according to the RSF, intimidation against reporters is common. As of 2020, about 20 Italian journalists are under 24/7 police protection because of mafia threats or attempts on their lives.

Italy, ranked 41st out of 180 countries, has among the worst rankings in Europe, with only about 10 countries on the continent faring worse. Though politicians are nicer to journalists than in previous years, reporters are still verbally and physically targeted by the far right Five Star Movement, which is part of the government coalition.

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26. Malta
> Population: 502,653
> GDP per capita: $45,652
> Freedom of the press score in 2020: 30.2 — 81st out of 180 (“problematic”)
> Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.7 — 77th out of 180 (“problematic”)
> Worst area of press freedom: Media independence
> Best area of press freedom: Infrastructure

Though Freedom House gives Malta a “free” assessment, the assassination in 2017 of journalist Daphne Caruana Galizia, who was investigating government links to dodgy investment deals, rocked the the Mediterranean island nation and it slipped four spots on the RSF World Press Freedom Index to 81st. Massive protests over how the inquiry into Galizia’s death was handled and revelations of extensive government corruption led to the resignation of Prime Minister Joseph Muscat. Despite a change in government, the media claims state interference such as unlawful detention of journalists has continued.