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Finland tops 2014 press freedom index

2013 will be remembered as a year in which the free press flexed its muscles. The widespread global reporting arising from data leaks also influenced the 2014 Press Freedom Index compiled by the interest group Reporters Without Borders.

Toimittajat ilman rajoja -järjestön edustajat osoittivat mieltään sananvapauden puolesta Sotshin olympiakisojen aikana Venäjän suurlähetystön edustalla Berliinissä 4. helmikuuta. Image: Britta Pedersen / EPA

Finland has emerged top of a list of 180 countries evaluated for press freedom by the global interest group Reporters Without Borders (RSF).

According to the 2014 Press Freedom Index, Finland led the ranking for the fourth consecutive year, followed by the Netherlands and Norway. According to the group, press freedom in Finland is based on strong legal foundations supported by a genuine culture of individual liberty.

However in spite of its stellar performance, the organisation drew attention to what it sees as a worrying concentration of media ownership. All the same, it noted that the media in Finland are highly plural in nature.

Additionally while slander is a criminal offence, the regulations are not abused and it is rare for reporters to receive prison sentences. The interest group also referenced the independent media watchdog, the Council for the Mass Media in Finland (JSN), which interprets sound media practice and defends freedom of speech and publication.

The USA loses ground

2013 was an eventful year for journalists and for the concept of free speech, and the ongoing debate over how free speech should be is reflected in the ranking of the United States. The report notes that freedom of information was often sacrificed in favour of "an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs", as a result of which the US dropped 13 places to 46th position in the ranking, where it now keeps company with the likes of Romania (45) and Haiti (47).

Trailing the pack in the European Union were Bulgaria and Greece, with the latter slipping 14 rungs to 99th position. Italy, on the other hand showed signs of improvement.

According to RSF, armed conflict significantly weakens the position of journalists -- as a result Mali dropped 22 places in the ranking to 122 and the Central African Republic slid 43 places down to 109.

The most difficult places for journalists to work in are Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan, which the organisation refers to as "black holes" for news and information and where journalists live in imminent danger.

Knocks for China and Russia

Economic power China also remains one of the most challenging locations for press freedom, as reporters face ongoing censorship and dissident writers and bloggers can be imprisoned – the global press freedom watchdog ranked it in 175th position.

Another global heavyweight, Russia also fared poorly in the index, coming in at 148. RSF slammed the country for its heavy-handed treatment of the media.

On a positive note the interest group pointed to the growth of press freedom in many parts of Latin America, with clear improvements in countries such as Panama, Ecuador, Bolivia and the Dominican Republic.