PARIS - Reporters Without Borders has named "crackdown" the word of 2011 in an assessment of global media freedom during a year in which journalists covering sweeping protests were tested as never before.
The Paris-based press freedom watchdog said Wednesday that the wave of uprisings in the Middle East, the Occupy movement in the West and continued protests in China gave journalists an unprecedented role in advancing democracy. But they also were often targeted by governments trying to quash dissent.
"Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much," the group said in a statement accompanying its report.
But the important role journalists played put them in the cross hairs of repressive regimes, the report said, adding: "Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous."View Reporter's Without Borders' full report here
The heightened unrest resulted in a significant shake-up of the group's annual Press Freedom Index, which assesses governments' commitment to protecting media freedoms. The United States, for instance, fell 27 places to 47 because of arrests of journalists during Occupy Wall Street protests. The slide places it just behind Comoros and Taiwan in a group with Argentina and Romania.
Tunisia, which threw off decades of authoritarian rule in a revolt last year that sparked the Arab Spring uprisings, rose 30 places. But the group said its rank remains low at 134 out of 179 because although it "gave birth to a democratic regime," it "has not yet fully accepted a free and independent press."
Despite the big changes, some constants remained. Finland and Norway topped the list, as they did for 2010. Eritrea was last, with North Korea just above.
Syria, where an uprising against the government has been met with a brutal crackdown that has left more than 5,000 people dead, received its worst rating ever at 176.
The group judged that Syria, along with Iran and China, "seem to have lost contact with reality as they have been sucked into an insane spiral of terror."