When it comes to freedom of the press, it is ‘problematic’ in many of the richest countries across the world – USA TODAY

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Across the world, freedom of the press is entering a critical era. Several crises, from the coronavirus pandemic to a polarized public have serious consequences for journalism and global press freedom.

Prosperous nations, which include some of the largest and oldest elected democracies in the world, tend to have greater press freedom than poorer countries. But this trend is far from consistent. The 50 richest countries in the world based on GDP per capita rank anywhere from best in the world, to among the worst 10 countries for freedom of the press.

To compare press freedom in the worlds richest countries, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed 2020 World Press Freedom Index scores in the 50 countries with the highest gross domestic product (GDP) per capita. In its annual press freedom index, the non-profit organization Reporters Without Borders (RSF) measures freedom of information throughout the world by combining survey-responses of media experts, as well as counts of acts of violence against journalists.

Elected leaders in many democracies, which are known for having free and independent media, have tried to silence critical outlets and promote those that offer favorable coverage. Even the president of the United States, one of the oldest democracies and a country famous for its fierce defense of its First Amendment that guarantees freedom of the press, has frequently demonized the news media as the enemy of the people. His rhetoric has given succor to political leaders in other countries who have passed bills making fake news illegal, and have framed articles they dont like as bogus news.

When it comes to press freedom, one region stands out. Scandinavian countries continue to lead the world, and western Europe media remains mostly free despite a few wobbles. These two regions lead the way in another important areathese are countries that have come closest to true gender equality.

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Oman.(Photo: Source: Kerrick / E+ via Getty Images)

50. Oman

Population: 4,974,986

GDP per capita: $29,052

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 43.4 135th out of 180 ("difficult")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 43.4 132nd out of 180 ("difficult")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Infrastructure

Oman, a small nation on the southeastern coast of the Arabian Peninsula, is classified as "not free" by Freedom House, a U.S.-based watchdog for democracy, political freedom, and human rights. The government has broad powers to shut down news outlets and websites and revoke licenses. Journalists are frequently harassed in the sultanate of 4 million people, and they can be arrested and detained incommunicado for charges such as insulting government authorities or trying to disrupt civil order. In 2016, two independent newspapers were shuttered or had operations suspended by the government.

49. Russia

Population: 144,373,535

GDP per capita: $29,181

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 48.9 149th out of 180 ("difficult")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 50.3 149th out of 180 ("difficult")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Russia has one of the worst free press ratings in the world. Since anti-government protests in 2011 and 2012, free press has been stifled by website blocking and selectively applied laws that have landed journalists in prison. Meanwhile, television in the country pushes propaganda and is hostile towards members of the press trying to do their job fairly. Major TV networks in Russia are either state-run or managed by companies with close government ties.

48. Malaysia

Population: 31,949,777

GDP per capita: $29,526

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 33.1 101st out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 36.7 123rd out of 180 ("difficult")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Infrastructure

Press freedom began to improve in Malaysia in 2018 after the ruling coalition Barisan Nasional was defeated after governing the Asian nation since 1957. The new government began easing laws and regulations that restricted the press, and the media are now offering more diverse coverage. The government is taking steps to end the Anti-Fake News Act, which the former government had adopted in April 2018. Even so, legislation such as the Sedition Act, the Official Secrets Act, and the Communications and Multimedia Act that have been used to suppress the press and regulate publication licenses, remains on the books.

47. Croatia

Population: 4,067,500

GDP per capita: $29,973

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 28.5 59th out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.0 64th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Pluralism

Although Croatia's score and ranking in the 2020 World Press Freedom Index has improved slightly since last year, the country's situation for journalists remains "problematic," according to RSF. The media enjoy a relatively high degree of independence, but investigative journalists, especially those looking into corruption, organized crime, or war crimes, are often targeted. It's illegal to publish "humiliating" content, as well as to insult the republic, flag, or national anthem.

Croatian radio-TV, HRT, owned by the state, is financed by advertising and a license fee. However, officials often meddle in how it's run. Journalists who voice their objections are often sued.

46. Seychelles

Population: 97,625

GDP per capita: $30,260

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 28.7 63rd out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.4 69th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Infrastructure

Media independence on the island nation in the Indian Ocean has been hampered by the country's legacy of decades-long communist party rule. The government exercises considerable influence over communications in the Seychelles the government owns the island's only television station as well as two radio stations. However, a greater diversity of media choices are emerging, though independently owned media tends to be politically slanted. The press exercises self-censorship in regard to controversial national issues in deference to its tourism industry, which is important to the national economy.

45. Greece

Population: 10,716,322

GDP per capita: $31,399

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 28.8 65th out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.1 65th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Freedom of the press has improved slightly in Greece since last year, although the country still has one of the worst environments for censorship of the media among wealthy nations. Recently, journalists have been attacked and detained by police, and the headquarters of a weekly newspaper was raided by an anarchist group. Additionally, one broadcasting firm and the state news agency were both placed under the supervision of the country's prime minister. Greater media independence and transparency would go a long way to improve press freedom in Greece.

44. Latvia

Population: 1,912,789

GDP per capita: $32,204

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 18.6 22nd out of 180 ("satisfactory")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 19.5 24th out of 180 ("satisfactory")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Media outlets in Latvia are allowed to operate freely, face relatively few legal restrictions, and represent a wide range of political views. While Latvia ranks better than most wealthy countries for press freedom, the country is not without some troubling issues. Politicians regularly verbally attack media outlets and the country's public media is woefully underfunded. Latvia's media landscape is also growing less diverse as the country's oldest TV channel was shut down in 2019 and its newsroom merged with another existing channel.

43. Romania

Population: 19,356,544

GDP per capita: $32,297

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 25.9 48th out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 25.7 47th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Out of the 180 nations reviewed by Reporters Without Borders, Romania ranks 48th for press freedom. Unlike many wealthy countries that rank higher, Romania's political and ruling class encourages censorship by pressuring journalists to reveal sources and minimize criticism of leadership. Corruption in the media undercuts journalistic integrity and news outlets often act as a medium for political propaganda.

Although Romania's press is considered to be more free than the press in most of the rest of the world, it lags behind most of the 50 wealthy countries on this list.

42. Panama

Population: 4,246,439

GDP per capita: $32,762

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 29.8 76th out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 29.8 79th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Legislative framework

Of all wealthy countries in both North and South America, Panama ranks as having the worst free press. Though most media outlets in the country are privately owned, the government still controls access to information and pressures media companies through allocation of state advertising revenue. Journalists in the country are often fined through defamation cases when they are critical of government policy or cover corruption.

Despite these and other problems, press freedom is far better in Panama than it is in many of its poorer regional neighbors.

41. Hungary

Population: 9,769,949

GDP per capita: $33,979

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 30.8 89th out of 180 ("problematic")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 30.4 87th out of 180 ("problematic")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

Best area of press freedom: Pluralism

Hungary's ruling party has tight control over the country's media landscape which is dominated by a pro-government foundation. Independent journalists in the country are banned from certain events and from asking questions to members of parliament. Generally, politicians who hold power do not give interviews to outlets that are critical of the government. Investigative reporting on government corruption is generally published through online outlets.

Greater media independence and transparency would greatly improve press freedom in Hungary.

Slovakia(Photo: Source: TomasSereda / Getty Images)

40. Slovakia

Population: 5,454,073

GDP per capita: $34,178

Freedom of the press score in 2020: 22.7 33rd out of 180 ("satisfactory")

Freedom of the press score in 2019: 23.6 35th out of 180 ("satisfactory")

Worst area of press freedom: Media independence

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When it comes to freedom of the press, it is 'problematic' in many of the richest countries across the world - USA TODAY

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