Bangladesh slips 2 notches to 165th in RSF press freedom index

Representational imageProthom Alo illustration

Bangladesh has declined two notches in the World Press Freedom Index for 2024, standing at 165th out of 180 countries surveyed. 

It secured a score of 27.64 this year, which marks a significant deterioration compared to last year's score of 35.31. 

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), a global press freedom campaigner, released the latest index on Friday, marking the World Press Freedom Day, 3 May. 

Bangladesh registered the largest fall in 2022 when it slipped by 10 notches from the previous year’s place. It slipped by one more notch in the following year, 2023. With the latest development, the country slipped by 13 notches in total throughout the last three years. 

In South Asia, India has seen a modest improvement, climbing two notches to 159th, while Pakistan has slipped two places to 152nd. Sri Lanka ranked 150th, Maldives 106th, Bhutan 147th, and Nepal 74th. 

The RSF prepares the press freedom index based on five key indicators – political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety. Bangladesh saw its position in the social and security index unchanged, but there has been decline in the other three areas.

Regarding Bangladesh, the RSF noted that more than a fifth of the 169 million Bangladeshis live below the poverty line and have little access to mainstream media. The internet plays a growing role in the circulation of news and information.

The two leading state broadcasters, Bangladesh Television (BTV) and Bangladesh Betar radio, function as government propaganda outlets, as does the state-owned national news agency, Bangladesh Sangbad Sangstha (BSS). 

The private sector media landscape includes 3,000 print media outlets, daily or periodic, 30 radio stations – including some community radio stations – 30 TV channels and several hundred news sites. 

In this landscape, the pro-government news channels Somoy TV and Ekattor TV are very popular. There are no independent or opposition-owned TV news channels. The country’s two leading dailies, the Bengali-language Prothom Alo and the English-language Daily Star, manage to maintain a certain editorial independence. 

According to the RSF, supporters of the ruling party regularly launch violent physical attacks targeted against journalists they dislike, while judicial harassment campaigns are carried out to silence certain journalists or force media outlets to close. In such a hostile environment, editors carefully avoid challenging anything the government says. 

The press freedom campaigner organisation criticised the Cyber Security Act (CSA). 

Besides, it mentioned that most of the leading privately owned media in Bangladesh are owned by a handful of great businessmen who emerged during Bangladesh’s economic boom. They see their media outlets as tools of influence and profitability, and to that end, they prioritse good relations with the government over safeguarding editorial independence. 

In the index, Norway retains its top position, followed by Denmark, Sweden, the Netherlands, and Finland. On the flip side, Eritrea ranks lowest for press freedom, with Syria, Afghanistan, North Korea, and Iran also among the worst performers.

Notably, the United States ranked 55th, Russia 162nd, and China 172nd in the index.