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UK falls in press freedom league table after ‘fake news’ attacks by politicians

UK now ranked 40th out of 180 countries

Greater government surveillance powers and attacks on the media by prominent figures such as Nigel Farage and Donald Trump are responsible for a declining state of media freedom in democratic countries, according to new findings.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) highlighted the danger of a “tipping point” in media freedom in leading democracies as it published the 2017 World Press Freedom Index.

The UK has dropped two places in the ranking to 40th out of 180 countries.

The RSF cited reasons such as the confiscation of Syrian journalist Zaina Erhaim’s passport when she arrived in the UK last September and the passing of the Investigative Powers Act.

Rebecca Vincent, RSF’s UK Bureau director, said: “We witnessed a disturbing trend of moves against press freedom in the UK this year, from the seizure of a Syrian journalist’s passport, to the adoption of the most extreme surveillance legislation in UK history that could effectively serve as a death sentence for investigative journalism.”

Ms Erhaim was travelling to London to speak at a “Women on the Frontline” discussion but when she arrived at Heathrow Airport on September 22 with her eight-month-old daughter, border officials took her passport, telling her it had been reported stolen by the Syrian authorities.

The Investigatory Powers Act, dubbed the snoopers’ charter, was made law in late 2016 and branded “the most extreme surveillance in the history of western democracy” by US whistleblower Edward Snowden.

The legislation allows intelligence officials and police to hack, access and obtain the public’s personal communications data, from browser history to private messages – something many media organisations fear poses a threat to journalists and their sources.

While the Government revised the bill to incorporate “additional protections for journalists, removing an exemption for the security and intelligence agencies when seeking to identify journalists’ sources”, the RSF said that it still “lacks sufficient protection mechanisms”.

RSF also claimed the worsening press freedom situation was partly because political “strongmen are on the rise” – singling out former Ukip leader Nigel Farage and US President Donald Trump.

RSF said: “Attacks on the media, especially the BBC, were the pillar of Farage’s Brexit campaign.”

Mr Farage told ITV’s Piers Morgan’s Life Stories that the media had “attempted to demonise me and give me a bad name” for years. He also criticised the BBC after the referendum, telling LBC listeners the broadcaster failed to report the news of the Leave result with “objectivity”.

Similarly, Mr Trump’s anti-media comments was attributed to the US dropping two places to 43rd position.

Other countries under press freedom threat according to the list include Turkey ranking at 155th – where the failed coup in July 2016 lead to the arrests of more than 100 journalists – and France which has risen six places to 39th since 2016 but still faces attacks from politicians, with presidential hopeful Marine Le Pen accusing the media of “delirious lies” in her autobiography.

The country ranked the worst for media freedom was North Korea, while the country ranked highest was Norway.

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