Press freedom is in crisis in an unprecedented number of nations. Disinformation, misinformation, and artificial intelligence are growing dangers to journalism, and the new annual snapshot warns that media freedom is in grave health in a record number of countries.
The World Press Freedom Index showed a startling decline, with the number of nations classified as in a “dire situation” (the report’s lowest grade) rising from 21 just two years ago to an all-time high of 31.
The list, produced by the advocacy group Reporters Without Borders (RSF), cites “increased aggression from autocratic governments,” including some that are deemed democratic, and “massive disinformation or propaganda campaigns” as reasons for the deterioration of the situation.
According to RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire’s interview with the Guardian, “there is more red on the RSF map this year than ever before” as authoritarian regimes become brazen in their attempts to stifle the press. The world community must “wake up to reality” and take coordinated, swift, and effective action to halt this dangerous trend.
This Wednesday commemorates the 30th anniversary of the first World Press Freedom Day, which was established to call attention to the responsibility of governments to protect press freedom. However, seven out of ten countries have a “bad” environment for journalism, while only three have a “satisfactory” environment. The United Nations reports that media freedom has fallen in the last five years in countries housing 85% of the world’s population.
Across 180 countries and territories, this survey evaluates the state of the media by gauging the freedom of the press to report on matters of public interest without interference or fear for their safety.
The ease with which false information can be disseminated demonstrates how rapidly developing technologies empower governments and political players to manipulate reality.
The report warned that the fuzziness between truth and fiction, reality and fabrication, facts and fiction, threatened the right to information. It’s been said that “the unprecedented ability to tamper with content is being used to undermine those who embody quality journalism and weaken journalism itself.”
According to the research, AI tools are “digesting content and regurgitating it in syntheses that flout the principles of rigor and reliability,” causing “further havoc in the media world.”
This includes both textual and visual AI content. It takes only a few seconds to create a high-definition image that looks like it shows a genuine person.
Meanwhile, governments are engaging in a propaganda war on a larger scale. State media in Russia blindly repeats the Kremlin narrative. At the same time, alternative publications are forced into exile, causing the country’s ranking to fall another nine places since last year’s invasion of Ukraine. Evan Gershkovich, a reporter for the Wall Street Journal, was arrested in Moscow last month on espionage accusations, making him the first American journalist to be detained in Russia since the conclusion of the cold war.
On the other hand, Tajikistan, India, and Turkey went from being in a “problematic situation” to the least stable category. Following media takeovers by oligarchs close to Narendra Modi, India has fallen precipitously, dropping 11 spots to 161. Before India’s current Hindu nationalist prime minister came to power, the country’s media had a relatively progressive reputation. After a BBC documentary was released this year that was critical of Modi, the country’s financial crimes agency raided BBC offices in what was widely seen as an intimidation tactic.