The freedom of press in Bangladesh has slipped a notch for the third year in a row on the 2021 World Press Freedom Index, indicating a difficult situation for journalists as the country ranked 152nd among 180 nations and territories.
Bangladesh remains the lowest ranked country throughout South Asia in terms of press freedom, and its position in this annual index has not improved since 2016, says the latest iteration of this index published by the Reporters Without Borders (RSF).
The report gave Bangladesh a score of 49.37, mentioning that two journalists were killed in the country in 2021, while many journalists, bloggers and cartoonists were arrested and prosecuted for their reporting on the pandemic and its impact on the society.
To this end, the government now has a tailor-made judicial weapon for silencing troublesome journalists – 2018 digital security law, under which "negative propaganda" is punishable by up to 14 years in prison, reads the report.
As a result, self-censorship has reached unprecedented levels in Bangladesh because editors are justifiably reluctant to risk imprisonment or their media outlet's closure, it added.
Norway topped the Index for the fifth consecutive year even though its media have complained of a lack of access to state-held information about the pandemic. The country is followed by Sweden, Finland, Denmark and Costa Rica.
This year, RSF showed that journalism – which is arguably the best vaccine against the virus of disinformation – is totally blocked or seriously impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others.
Data revealed by the index shows that journalists are finding it increasingly difficult to investigate and report sensitive stories, especially in Asia, the Middle East, and Europe.
It mentioned that the five areas of crises – geopolitical crisis, a technological crisis, a democratic crisis, a crisis of trust and an economic crisis – are now compounded by a global public health crisis.
RSF surveyed 180 countries and territories for making this report, with a structured questionnaire focused on a country's performance in regards to pluralism, media independence, and respect for the safety and freedom of journalists.
Lack of freedom in Asia
With 34 countries and more than half of the world's population, the Asia-Pacific region holds all the records, with the world's biggest prisons for journalists and bloggers – especially in China and Vietnam, and the world's deadliest countries for journalists and bloggers – above all Afghanistan, Pakistan, Philippines, and Bangladesh.
The Asia-Pacific region also has the biggest number of "Predators of Press Freedom," who run some of the worst dictatorships and information "black holes," such as North Korea and Laos.
In South Asian neighborhoods, only the press freedom of Bhutan, Maldives and Nepal is comparatively good, but still under a Problematic situation. These countries are ranked 65th, 72th and 106th respectively.
Press freedom is in a difficult situation in other south Asian nations – Afghanistan (122), Sri Lanka (127th), India (142th), and Pakistan (145th). These nations maintained their previous rank in 2021, but Bangladesh slipped one notch compared to the last year.
China (177th), which continues to take Internet censorship, surveillance, and propaganda to unprecedented levels, is still firmly anchored among the Index's worst countries, which are indicated in black on the World Press Freedom map.
Eritrea has been listed as the country with the least press freedom, taking away the last position from North Korea.