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UK falls in press freedom index due to Northern Ireland threats

Lyra McKee

It's "no surprise" the UK has slipped on the World Press Freedom Index because of the threat faced by journalists in Northern Ireland, an Amnesty director has said.

The list, produced by the Reporters Without Borders, surveys the state of the media in 180 countries and territories around the world.

The UK has slipped two places to number 35 and is now considered more dangerous than countries including Costa Rica, Jamaica and South Africa, while the top spot went to Norway for the fourth year running, followed by Finland and Denmark.

It comes a year after the killing of journalist Lyra McKee as she observed a riot in Londonderry last April.

Also in August, journalists Trevor Birney and Barry McCaffrey were arrested over the alleged theft of a Police Ombudsman document which was used in their film No Stone Unturned about the Loughinisland massacre.

The Lord Chief Justice later ruled search warrants used by police had been “inappropriate”.

Reporters Without Borders UK director, Rebecca Vincent, told the Guardian newspaper there was shock at reports from journalists in Belfast and Derry, “who are clearly among the most at-risk reporters in the UK”.

“As we remember and honour Lyra McKee, we must also act to protect those who continue to take great risks to report information in the public interest,” she said.

“These issues must be addressed by the UK authorities as a matter of urgent priority to prevent further acts of violence.”

Amnesty International’s programme director in Northern Ireland Patrick Corrigan said the incidents were a reminder of the risks reporters face here.

“Sadly, this news comes as no surprise. The tragic death of Lyra McKee at the hands of republican paramilitaries 12 months ago is a reminder of the risks that reporters face in Northern Ireland," he said.

“Northern Ireland continues to be the most dangerous part of the UK to be a journalist, threatening press freedom daily.

“In the year since Lyra’s death, reporters have continued to receive threats of violence and death on a regular basis and two reporters have had to defend their freedom in court after groundless arrests by the police.”

Mr Corrigan said his organisation will continue to stand with journalists who were under threat and who work to expose uncomfortable truths.

The PSNI said they had no comment to make on the matter.

“We recall too the 2001 killing by loyalist paramilitaries of Sunday World reporter Martin O’Hagan, for which no-one has ever been held to account,” he added.

“Press freedom is the cornerstone of a rights respecting society and we must all act together to guard it closely.”

The annual index is based on a survey of media experts assessing issues such as the level of media independence, transparency, and the quality of infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Meanwhile, Malaysia and the Maldives registered the biggest rises in the 2020 index after recent changes of government, followed by Sudan, which rose 16 places to 159th after the removal of Omar al-Bashir as president.

The biggest decline was in Haiti, where journalists have often been targeted during violent nationwide protests. Comoros and Benin also fell down the list owing to press freedom violations.

Belfast Telegraph