This is Part II in a series. Read Part I in the March 6, 2012 issue of the Fairhaven Free Press at: http://ffpressonline.com/2012/03/08/press-freedom-what-does-it-mean-exactly/
For 10 years, Iceland has steadily ranked among the top countries in the world regarding freedom of the press. The accolade however does not indicate the quality of journalism or newsgathering that occurs in that country. The honor measures violations happening against newsgatherers and media outlets.
At least two well-known press freedom indexes—Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders—place Iceland high in their rankings.
The U.S.-based bi-partisan organization called Freedom House, which researches and monitors democracy and freedom around the world, listed Iceland as “Free” in its 2010 Map of Press Freedom, noting at that time “despite enduring problems associated with the global financial crisis of late 2008, the Icelandic press is still among the freest in the world.” The report went on: “Freedoms of the press and expression are protected under Article 72 of the constitution, and the government generally does not interfere in the independent media’s presentation of a wide variety of views.”
Meantime, another organization that protects and defends press freedom, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), has consistently ranked Iceland among the top ten countries (out of more than 170) in its Freedom of the Press Worldwide Index. In 2002, RWB began this as a tracking tool of press freedom violations.
Using a 44-question survey sent to journalists and partner media organizations, RWB gathers information on violence and threats affecting journalists and netizens, including murders, physical threats and attacks, harassment, abusive treatment and censorship. There are also questions regarding violations on the free flow of information via the Internet.
While the RWB index does not measure quality of journalism, it reflects the degree of freedom that journalists have and the efforts of countries to respect and protect press freedoms.
Over the years, Iceland has held the RWB number one position eight times (often tied with Denmark, Finland, the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden among others). There have been a few fluctuations with Iceland moving to number nine in 2009, most likely reflecting effects of the financial crash, and moving back up to number one in 2010. In its most recent figures published in January, Iceland lands in the number six position in terms of press freedom, according to RWB.
The slight movement downward is mainly due to “the impact of the economic crisis on this small and quite isolated information market,” Olivier Basille, Acting Director of RWB, said in an email correspondence.
Jennifer Karchmer, a Senior Instructor in the Dept. of Communication, and an independent journalist, spent six weeks in Reykjavik, Iceland earlier this year studying freedom of the press. She serves as a volunteer correspondent for Reporters Without Borders, an international nonprofit working to defend and protect journalists and freedom of information worldwide.