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“To this end, the government now has a tailor-made judicial weapon for silencing troublesome journalists – the 2018 digital security law, under which “negative propaganda” is punishable by up to 14 years in prison. As a result, self-censorship has reached unprecedented levels because editors are justifiably reluctant to risk imprisonment or their media outlet’s closure.”

Since their reelection in 2019, the ruling Awami League has taken a markedly tougher line with the media. Journalists have been subjected to violence by party activists, they have been arrested arbitrarily, and news sites have been blocked, RSF said.

It further said, “Symbolising the new atmosphere of mistrust, reporters for the two leading dailies, the Bangla-language Prothom Alo and the English-language Daily Star, are not allowed to attend government press conferences. Reporters who investigate corruption or local criminal gangs are liable to be subjected to extremely barbaric violence that ranges from torture to death.”

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News agency UNB adds: “This year’s index, which evaluates the press freedom situation in 180 countries and territories annually, shows that journalism, which is arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation, is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others, which together represent 73 per cent of the countries evaluated,” RSF states in an article published on its website.

Independent journalism is being fiercely suppressed in Bangladesh (down 1 at 152nd), Sri Lanka (127th) and Nepal (up 6 at 106th) – the latter’s rise in the Index being due more to falls by other countries than to any real improvement in media freedom, it said.

These countries are classified as having “very bad,” “bad” or “problematic” environments for press freedom, and are identified accordingly in black, red or orange on the World Press Freedom map.

The Index data reflect a dramatic deterioration in people’s access to information and an increase in obstacles to news coverage. The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field.

The data shows that journalists are finding it increasingly hard to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East and Europe.

“Journalism is the best vaccine against disinformation,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said.

“Unfortunately, its production and distribution are too often blocked by political, economic, technological and, sometimes, even cultural factors. In response to the virality of disinformation across borders, on digital platforms and via social media, journalism provides the most effective means of ensuring that public debate is based on a diverse range of established facts.”

Norway ranked first in the Index for the fifth year running even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic.

Finland maintained its position in second place while Sweden (up 1 at 3rd) recovered its third place ranking, which it had yielded to Denmark (down 1 at 4th) last year. The 2021 Index demonstrates the success of these Nordic nations’ approach towards upholding press freedom.

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