By press freedom we mean not only the existence of rules and laws that protect the free expression of the media, but a series of even more important aspects: those that constitute the influences and pressures existing within a nation, which through alternative ways they ensure that the pluralism of information is denied, or that information is used as a tool to influence public opinion (therefore as a propaganda tool). This can happen both in the form of direct pressure from institutions, and as a journalistic mindset, in cases where journalism generally prefers to ride a specific wave of opinions or positions because more trending, rather than offering a wider range of positions and allow readers to develop an independent opinion.
The world press freedom index
There is an international organization that carefully analyzes press freedom in the various nations of the world. It is called Reporter Without Borders (RSF) and annually draws up a ranking that covers 180 countries and sorts them by press freedom. This ranking is calculated based on the answers that experts from all over the world give to a questionnaire specially designed by the organization.
The latest ranking is available at this address:
Most of the most free countries in the world are in Europe. United States are often positioned in a average position, together with Italy. Among the nations in the world that often rank above Italy and the United States in the world are Costa Rica, Jamaica, Ghana, Australia and New Zealand. Among the worst in the world there are regular appearances such as China, North Korea and many countries in the Middle East.
Recent statistics show a general decline in press freedom worldwide.
How to recognize press freedom and press quality
Those who use only national information, without integrating with comparisons and enrichments taken from the international press, may find it difficult to identify low quality information and lack of press freedom. However, there are some objective indicators that signal the presence of anomalies in a nation’s information system, and which therefore should trigger distrust about the objectivity of that system. Let’s see which ones:
- Limited pluralism: the media offer a lot of space to a few limited positions, and cover the opposite positions to a much more limited extent. When we observe that all the media present almost identical positions, it is likely that the information is not offering an objective and honest picture of reality
- Opinions instead of facts: when the media leave a lot of space to the opinions, even if of important journalists or people presented as authoritative, instead of presenting the facts objectively, there is likely to be behind a more or less explicit intention to influence public opinion.
- Demonization of minorities: if the information of a country is aimed at supporting a specific position or opinion, there is a clear feeling that adopting a different opinion attracts criticism, censorship and attacks by the main opinion. When you have the feeling that the information is presenting facts and positions with the aim of convincing users of the goodness of one position compared to another, it is very likely that the objective of those media is not pure information, but it aims at supporting a specific position. This can be translated into the exclusion of representatives of minorities from the main scenario, or even worse in indirect attacks on those exponents through targeted articles that put them in a bad light (for completely different reasons, in order to attack the credibility of the person and make sure that public opinion does not give weight to their positions).
- Poor attention to the development of autonomous opinions: quality information should always present the facts, possibly offering the complete range of opinions regarding those facts, limiting as much as possible the elements that could influence the receiver of the information in the development of a personal position. Those who use the information should always feel able to have a complete picture of the situation and develop their own opinion, as freely as possible from the influences of those who spread the information. If those who benefit from the information instead have the feeling that the information is somehow pushing for the development of a specific position with respect to another, we are in the presence of low quality information.
On whom does the freedom and quality of press depend?
Those primarily responsible for freedom of information are obviously the institutions, which should leave sources of information free of influence, should ensure that the media are not influenced by pressure or funding. This implies not only the presence of appropriate legislation, but also of an appropriate culture: political representatives in positions of responsibility should be careful to publicly express personal opinions and should always show signs of respect towards minorities and their positions.
The media have a great responsibility to pay close attention to pluralism and objectivity, avoiding pushing for the development of specific opinions. Which also means resisting external pressures of an institutional or economic nature, in the name of the intrinsic values of information. Independent information often follows official channels in this error, due to a simple weakness of values, or because the most widespread positions are also those that get the most readers.
Readers and ordinary people also have an important role: that of striving to access multiple sources, to prefer the presentation of facts over opinions and to aim to develop an independent personal position, avoiding passively adopting opinions presented by others, and shunning the logic that aims to take sides. In the information system of a country, the priority must be to offer the facts in an objective manner, allowing public opinion to develop independently, as free from influence as possible. Through the choice of sources and the search for quality, readers and users can access information of higher quality and support the sources that care more about it.
A high quality of information creates a strong cultural context and a care for social values that guarantees justice, equity and progress. The goal is for the nation to evolve in the natural directions of improvement that represents the common interest, rather than for the strengthening of individual positions above the others.