Freedom of the Press is an essential aspect of functioning democracies. Be it an institution or an individual, the liberty to express openly is the most important of attributes. The press, in particular, being the Fourth Estate of a democratic society, is expected to be bold and articulate. But ground realities differ from ideal conceptions of the function of the press. In the real world, an array of external factors coaxes or coerces the press into acting against democratic principles. These include advertisers, political parties, businesses and even special interest citizen groups. In this backdrop, it is interesting to analyze the state of freedom of press in the world today. It is an interesting exercise to find out which countries are exemplary and which are at a nadir. After all, freedom of press has an immediate bearing on the lives and prospects of citizens. It is not an abstract idea whose relevance is confined merely to the academia.
The Freedom House ranking is based on the evaluation of three key parameters: Economic Environment, Political Environment and Legal Environment. The three parameters are given equal weight and a cumulative number called the Press Freedom Score is arrived at. It is usually the case that a country that fares poorly in one count also fares poorly in other parameters. This is so because the legal, political and economic conditions are mostly interlinked. To elaborate,
“The index assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world, analyzing the events of each calendar year. It provides numerical rankings and rates each country’s media as “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Country narratives examine the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to information.” (freedomhouse.org)
The comprehensive ranking of all the countries in the world presented by Freedom House is very informative. What stands out in the ranking is how the United States, despite its self-proclaimed status as a promoter of freedom and democracy across the world, is actually ranked twenty-third. In fact most countries in Western Europe fare better than the United States. Leading the chart are the Nordic nations of Norway and Sweden, followed by Belgium, Finland and Netherlands. They are followed by Denmark, Luxembourg, Switzerland, Andorra and Iceland. From this assembly of the Top 10 countries one could discern a pattern. The Nordic and Scandinavian nations are the most exceptional and exemplary in this respect. Likewise, the smaller democracies of Western Europe fare better compared to their larger counterparts such as France (35) or Germany (19). Yet, taken as a continental bloc, North-Western Europe is the region where freedom of press can be said to flourish. There are several benign consequences of this freedom in the region. It is no coincidence that this regional bloc is the most vibrant in terms of arts and literature. Be it cinema or the plastic arts, the North-Western Europe stands out in terms of quality, novelty of ideas and creativity. The same is true with respect to the continuing literary and intellectual tradition in this region.