South Africa is ranked at number 43 on an index measuring the level of press freedom in 169 countries throughout the world.

This year, Eritrea replaced North Korea in last place on the report, which has been published by Reporters Without Borders for the sixth year running.

“There is nothing surprising about this,” Reporters Without Borders said. “Eritrea deserves to be at the bottom. The privately-owned press has been banished by the authoritarian President Issaias Afeworki and the few journalists who dare to criticise the regime are thrown in prison.”

Two other African countries, Mauritius and Namibia, received a higher rating than South Africa, with both placing at number 25. South Africa, however, was ranked higher than the United States (48), Hong Kong (61), Brazil (84) or India (120).

Over the last few months, here has been growing concern that the South African government may crack down on the press – mainly as a result of negative reporting on the country’s Health Minister. The public broadcaster, the SABC, has also been repeatedly slammed for not being sufficiently objective or critical when it comes to the government.

Nevertheless South Africa showed a slight improvement in its raking this past year, moving up one point on the index. The top ten countries with the highest level of press freedom are Iceland, Norway, Estonia, Slovakia, Belgium, Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal.

Some African countries that traditionally held a good position have also fallen noticeably. This is the case with Benin (53) and Mali (52). Journalists have been imprisoned in these two African countries for the first time in several years for defamation or insulting the president.

The Internet is increasingly becoming a target of countries that violate press freedom with a number falling in the ranking this year because of serious, repeated violations of the free flow of online news and information.

“We are concerned about the increase in cases of online censorship,” Reporters Without Borders said. “More and more governments have realised that the Internet can play a key role in the fight for democracy and they are establishing new methods of censoring it. The governments of repressive countries are now targeting bloggers and online journalists as forcefully as journalists in the traditional media.”

At least 64 people are currently imprisoned worldwide because of what they posted on the Internet. China maintains its leadership in this form of repression, with a total of 50 cyber-dissidents in prison. Eight are being held in Vietnam. A young man known as Kareem Amer was sentenced to four years in prison in Egypt for blog posts criticising the president and Islamist control of the country’s universities.

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