Arabs have more press freedom than Israel: RSF

A number of Arab nations rank higher than Israel, US

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Despite being hailed as models of democracy, countries like the United States and Israel rank lower than most Arab countries in terms of press freedom, a media report said Wednesday.

In the post 9/11 world of fear-mongering and insecurity the world's top democracies are slowly but surely doing away with press freedoms, Reporters Without Borders' (RSF) press freedom index of 2008 said.

“Destabilized and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms," the report said, adding it is no longer economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom.

The Paris-based group ranked the U.S. at 119 outside its own territory while Israel, whose armed forces killed a Palestinian journalist this year, was 149th on the list for press freedoms outside its frontiers.

The annual report assessed 173 countries, with Kuwait receiving the highest rank at 61 for a Middle Eastern country followed by Lebanon at 66 and the United Arab Emirates at 69.

Violent conflicts in Iraq (158th), Pakistan (152nd), Afghanistan (156th) and Somalia (153rd) pushed them towards the bottom of the list. The report also described these countries as highly dangerous "black zones" for reporters as they are targeted daily for murder, kidnapping or death threats.

The Palestinian Territories ranked penultimate in terms of Middle Eastern countries where authorities find "any excuse will do to get rid of trouble-makers and spies,” the report said.

Syria, whichcame in at 159th, was labeled the Middle-East champion in cyber-repression where Internet surveillance is so thorough that the least criticism is followed by arrest. Egypt's government, which faced a string of online protests this year, now labels every Internet user a potential danger, the report said. It ranked the biggest Arab nation and one of the largest recipients of U.S. foreign assistance at 146.

RSF labeled Tunisia, Libya and Iran—the lowest ranked Middle Eastern country—as dictatorships where journalists face an "unchanging hell" of a suffocating lack of press freedom. Saudi Arabia ranked 161 and the report said nothing is allowed to be published if it does not accord with government policy.

Destabilized and on the defensive, the leading democracies are gradually eroding the space for freedoms

Reporters Without Borders press freedom index 2008