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Equatorial Guinea, Mozambique and Brazil are the Portuguese-speaking countries with the least press freedom, according to the annual index published on Tuesday by Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
In the 20th edition of the world press freedom ranking, published today on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Paris-based international non-governmental organisation (NGO) assesses the practice of journalism in 180 countries.
The ranking of the 180 countries – from 0 to 100, with 100 being the best possible score – is based on a quantification of abuses against journalists and a qualitative analysis by press freedom experts in each country.
The situation for journalists is “very serious” in 28 countries, including Russia and Belarus; “difficult” in 42 countries, such as Equatorial Guinea and Mozambique; and “problematic” in 62 countries, including Brazil, Angola and Guinea-Bissau.
The comparison with countries in a fairly good situation (40 countries, including Timor-Leste and Cabo Verde) or very good situation (eight countries, including Portugal) shows the imbalance at a global level.
Among the Portuguese-speaking countries, Portugal stands out in 7th place among the countries with the most press freedom and the others are between 17th (Timor-Leste) and 141st (Equatorial Guinea).
“In Equatorial Guinea, a country led by the same man for more than four decades, the ‘media’ are muzzled and prior censorship is the norm,” write the authors of the RSF report.
The experts say that “there is no real pluralism in the media” as the main source of news for the population is the government-controlled RTVGE public radio and television station and the only private television station in the country belongs to the President’s son and current vice-president, Teodoro Obiang Ngema (‘Teodorin’).
Media legislation is one of the strictest in Africa, with frequent prosecutions of journalists leading to permanent self-censorship; journalists are threatened, intimidated and subject to arbitrary arrest; acts of violence against journalists go completely unpunished, the report warns.
Despite this, the index authors admit that in recent years there has been an “encouraging development – the emergence of online media providing news coverage that partially escapes government control”.
In the press freedom index, Equatorial Guinea rose from 164th place in 2021 to 141st this year, although it lost points, from 44.33 to 43.96.
Mozambique also lost points in this year’s assessment, from 64.61 in 2021 to 49.89 now, and has dropped from 108th position to 116th in one year, a trend that has dragged on since 2011/2012, when the country was as high as 66th.
Filipe Nyusi’s re-election as president and the fragile peace deal with the armed wing of Renamo, the main opposition party “have not slowed the worrying decline in press freedom in Mozambique”, says the RSF report.
The organisation says the country has a large number of media outlets directly or indirectly controlled by the authorities or the Frelimo ruling party members, which undermines their independence.
Although the law protects press freedom and journalistic independence, the legislation is rarely enforced, “in an environment marked by growing authoritarianism and increasingly difficult access to information,” the report says, also warning of hostile discourse and verbal attacks against journalists.
Brazil, which fell from 111th to 110th place last year, has seen a sharp deterioration in the relationship between the press and the government since the inauguration of president, Jair Bolsonaro, who “regularly attacks journalists and the media in his speeches”, RSF concludes.
“Structural violence against journalists, a media landscape marked by a high concentration of private ownership and the effects of misinformation are major challenges to the progress of press freedom” in Brazil, the authors write.
The report also recalls that in the decade ending in 2020, at least 30 journalists were killed in Brazil, the second country in the region with the most media professionals killed in that period.
Despite having lost almost nine percentage points in its ranking, Angola rose in the press freedom index, from 103rd to 99th place last year.
RSF experts regret that the 2017 inauguration of president, João Lourenço, at the end of four decades of José Eduardo dos Santos’ leadership did not represent a turning point for press freedom in Angola.
“Censorship and information control still weigh heavily on Angolan journalists,” they warn.
In Guinea-Bissau, which rose from 95th to 92nd place in the index, RSF notes a difficult environment for journalism, with a “marked deterioration in security for journalists, alongside political and economic pressures”.
“Journalists have to deal with chronic political instability, as seen again with the attempted coup in February 2022. The pressure is constant,” the RSF analysts write.
The report also warns that journalists and ‘media’ are regularly the target of physical attacks, such as the armed attacks on Capital FM radio station and the home of one of its journalists in February this year.
— RSF (@RSF_inter) May 3, 2022