Bangladesh has dropped one spot to rank 152nd out of 180 countries in terms of press freedom, according to the Reporters Without Borders, also known as Reporters sans frontières (RSF).
The ranking was included in the organisation’s 2021 World Press Freedom Index report released on Tuesday.
The report also included a press freedom map, which categorised the press freedom situation in a country or region as good, satisfactory, problematic, difficult or very serious. Bangladesh was categorised as facing a ‘difficult’ situation.
In its country profile, RSF states that the coronavirus crisis and the accompanying lockdown has led to an ‘alarming increase’ in police and civilian violence against reporters in Bangladesh and that journalists were facing arrest and prosecution for reporting on the pandemic and its effect on society.
Its report also highlighted the Digital Security Act, which it called a tool for silencing the media.
“The government now has a tailor-made judicial weapon for silencing troublesome journalists – the 2018 digital security law, under which “negative propaganda” is punishable by up to 14 years in prison,” it said.
“As a result, self-censorship has reached unprecedented levels because editors are justifiably reluctant to risk imprisonment or their media outlet’s closure.”
“Journalists have been subjected to violence by party activists, they have been arrested arbitrarily, and news sites have been blocked… Reporters who investigate corruption or local criminal gangs are liable to be subjected to extremely barbaric violence that ranges from torture to death.”
The annual press freedom index, which has been compiled in some form since 2002, is based on pooling responses to a questionnaire sent out by Reporters Without Borders to media professionals, lawyers and sociologists.
Bangladesh was first included in the index in 2013, when it ranked 144th out of 180 countries.
The report also paints a dire picture of the current state of press freedom, stating that journalism is totally blocked or impeded in 73 countries and constrained in 59 others.
The data found in the index reflected a ‘dramatic deterioration’ in access to information and worsening obstacles to news coverage, RSF said.
“The coronavirus pandemic has been used as grounds to block journalists’ access to information sources and reporting in the field,” it added.
The RSF cited a 2021 report from the Edelman Trust which found that 59 percent of respondents in 28 countries said that journalists deliberately try to mislead the public by reporting information they know to be false. The organisation said the finding “reveals a disturbing level of public mistrust of journalists.”
Norway, Finland, Sweden, Denmark and Costa Rica took the top five spots in terms of press freedom, while Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, China and Djibouti took up the bottom-most rungs.