/Proliferation of fake news fuelling divisions, global tensions: RSF

Proliferation of fake news fuelling divisions, global tensions: RSF

More widely known by its French acronym RSF, Reporters Without Borders warned that democratic societies were becoming increasingly fractured by disinformation spread on social media, as well as a rise in opinion-based media pursuing a so-called “Fox News model”, referring to the controversial right-wing television network in the United States.

According to RSF’s 2022 World Press Freedom Index, despotic and autocratic regimes that tightly control information in their societies are using their “asymmetric” position to wage “propaganda wars” against democracies and fuel divisions within them.

In a five-page summary published this Tuesday to coincide with World Press Freedom Day, the media watchdog says “polarisation on these two levels is fuelling increased tension”, noting that Russia, where state-run media is dominant, invaded Ukraine following a propaganda war.

🔴 #RSFIndex | RSF’s World Press Freedom Index 2022 reveals polarisation at two levels – in the media and between countries – that is being amplified by information chaos. The result is divisions within countries and between countries. #WPFD2022 https://t.co/zPCTDFGehm pic.twitter.com/cjvXm4ml8V

— RSF (@RSF_inter)

RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said: “The creation of media weaponry in authoritarian countries eliminates their citizens’ right to information, but is also linked to the rise in international tension – which can lead to the worst kind of wars.”

He added the “Fox News-isation” of Western media also poses a “fatal danger for democracies because it undermines the basis of civil harmony and tolerant public debate”.

Deloire has urged countries to adopt appropriate legal frameworks to protect democratic online information spaces.

Overall record ‘very bad’

The situation is “very bad” in a record 28 countries, according to this year’s ranking of 180 countries and regions based on the degree of freedom enjoyed by journalists.

The lowest ranked were North Korea at 180th, followed by Eritrea (179th) and Iran (178th), with Myanmar (176th) and China (175th) close behind.

Russia and ally Belarus were also on its red list of the most repressive regimes for press freedom, coming in at 155th and 153rd respectively.

Meanwhile, Hong Kong’s position plummeted dozens of places to 148th – reflecting Beijing’s efforts to use its “legislative arsenal to confine its population and cut it off from the rest of the world”.

Nordic countries Norway, Denmark and Sweden again topped the index, serving as democratic models “where freedom of expression flourishes”.

RSF however commended Moldova (40th) and Bulgaria (91st) this year due to government changes and “the hope it has brought for improvement in the situation for journalists”, but noted “oligarchs still own or control the media” in both.

Media polarisation was “feeding and reinforcing internal social divisions in democratic societies” such as the US, coming in at 42nd on the list.

That trend was even starker in “illiberal democracies” such as Poland in 66th place, a European Union country where suppression of independent media was also noted by the watchdog.

France has risen in the rankings over the past year from 34th to 26th place, but RSF has called out mechanisms to address conflicts of interest in the French media as being insufficient and outdated.

Launched in 1985, Reporters Without Borders has published the yearly index since 2002 and has become a thorn in the side of autocratic and despotic regimes around the world.

This year’s listing was developed with a new methodology redefining press freedom and using five new indicators – political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context, and security – to reflect its “complexity”.

Daily newsletterReceive essential international news every morning

Keep up to date with international news by downloading the RFI app