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Methodology used for compiling the World Press Freedom Index

From 2022 onwards

Aim

The purpose of the World Press Freedom Index is to compare the level of press freedom enjoyed by journalists and media in 180 countries and territories. This comparison is based on a definition of press freedom formulated by RSF and its panel experts when developing the new methodology to be used from 2022 onwards:

 

“Press freedom is defined as the ability of journalists as individuals and collectives to select, produce, and disseminate news in the public interest independent of political, economic, legal, and social interference and in the absence of threats to their physical and mental safety.”

Expert panel

Formed in 2020 to develop the new methodology, this panel has seven members:

  • Thomas Hanitzsch, comparative research director in the department of communication studies and media research at Ludwig Maximilian University of Munich, and a specialist in global journalism cultures and comparative methodology;
  • David Levy, senior research associate and former director of the Reuters Institute for the Study of Journalism, and member of RSF’s UK board;
  • Sallie Hughes, professor in the department of journalism and media management at the University of Miami, and a former journalist with the Miami Herald, Washington Post and Maclean’s;
  • Herman Wasserman, professor of media studies at the University of Cape Town and editor of African Journalism Studies;
  • Laura Moore, journalist, head of research and evaluation at Deutsche Welle Akademie, and author of “Measuring global media freedom” (Springer VS, 2020);
  • Thibaut Bruttin, RSF’s deputy director-general;
  • Prem Samy, while in charge of RSF’s World Press Freedom Index and then his replacement, Nalini Lepetit-Chella.

 

The Index is a snapshot of the situation in the 180 countries and territories during the calendar year (January-December) prior to its publication. Nonetheless, it is meant to be seen as an accurate reflection of the situation at the time of publication.

Therefore, when the press freedom situation changes dramatically in a country between the end of the year assessed and publication, the data is updated to take account of the most recent events possible. This may be related to a new war, a coup d'état, an unprecedented or very unusual major attack on journalists, or the sudden introduction of an extreme repressive policy. For the 2022 Index, this exceptional procedure was used with Russia, Ukraine and Mali.

Scoring territories and countries

The Index’s rankings are based on a score ranging from 0 to 100 that is assigned to each country or territory, with 100 being the best possible score (the highest possible level of press freedom) and 0 the worst.

This score is calculated on the basis of two components:

  • a quantitative tally of abuses against journalists in connection with their work, and against media outlets;
  • a qualitative analysis of the situation in each country or territory based on the responses of press freedom specialists (including journalists, researchers, academics and human rights defenders) to an RSF questionnaire available in 23 languages.
Languages of the questionnaire

Arabic, Bulgarian, Chinese (Simplified), Chinese (Traditional), Czech, English, German, Farsi, French, Greek, Hindi, Hungarian, Indonesian, Italian, Japanese, Korean, Mongolian, Polish, Portuguese, Romanian, Russian, Spanish and Turkish.

Press freedom map

The press freedom map offers a visual overview of the scores of all the countries in the index. The colours and classifications are assigned as follows:

  • [85 - 100 points]  good (green)
  • [70 - 85 points[  satisfactory (yellow)
  • [55 - 70 points[  problematic (light orange)
  • [40 - 55 points[  difficult (dark orange)
  • [0 - 40 points[ very serious (dark red)

Evaluation criteria: five contextual indicators

Each country or territory’s score is evaluated using five contextual indicators that reflect the press freedom situation in all of its complexity: political context, legal framework, economic context, sociocultural context and safety.

A subsidiary score ranging from 0 to 100 is calculated for each indicator. All of the subsidiary scores contribute equally to the global score. And within each indicator, all the questions and subquestions have equal weight.

Political context

33 questions and subquestions

They aim to evaluate:

  • the degree of support and respect for media autonomy vis-à-vis political pressure from the state or from other political actors;
  • the level of acceptance of a variety of journalistic approaches satisfying professional standards, including politically aligned approaches and independent approaches;
  • the degree of support for the media in their role of holding politicians and government to account in the public interest.

Legal framework

25 questions and subquestions

They concern the legislative and regulatory environment for journalists, in particular:

  • the degree to which journalists and media are free to work without censorship or judicial sanctions, or excessive restrictions on their freedom of expression;
  • the ability to access information without discrimination between journalists, and the ability to protect sources;
  • the presence or absence of impunity for those responsible for acts of violence against journalists.

Economic context

25 questions and subquestions

They aim to evaluate in particular:

  • economic constraints linked to governmental policies (including the difficulty of creating a news media outlet, favouritism in the allocation of state subsidies, and corruption);
  • economic constraints linked to non-state actors (advertisers and commercial partners);
  • economic constraints linked to media owners seeking to promote or defend their business interests.

Sociocultural context

22 questions and subquestions

They aim to evaluate in particular:

  • social constraints resulting from denigration and attacks on the press based on such issues as gender, class, ethnicity and religion;
  • cultural constraints, including pressure on journalists to not question certain bastions of power or influence or not cover certain issues because it would run counter to the prevailing culture in the country or territory.

Safety

12 questions and subquestions (⅔ of the safety score)

1 abuses score (⅓ of the safety score)

The questions concern journalists’ safety. For this purpose, press freedom is defined as the ability to identify, gather and disseminate news and information in accordance with journalistic methods and ethics, without unnecessary risk of:

  • bodily harm (including murder, violence, arrest, detention and abduction);
  • psychological or emotional distress that could result from intimidation, coercion, harassment, surveillance, doxing (publication of personal information with malicious intent), degrading or hateful speech, smears and other threats targeting journalists or their loved-ones;
  • professional harm resulting from, for example, the loss of one’s job, the confiscation or professional equipment, or the ransacking of installations.
Abuses score

The abuses score is calculated from RSF’s tally of abuses against media and against journalists in connection with their work, by means of the following function:

f(x) = 100 / (1 + x)

where x is the weighted sum of the abuses in a country or territory in the calendar year prior to the Index relative to the decimal logarithm of the population size:

where:

  • pop is the population size;
  • each xi represents the number of abuses in a category (murders, physical attacks, etc.);
  • each ki represents the coefficient associated with this category;
  • n is the number of categories for which abuses were registered;
  • K is the coefficient used as a mathematical device to create a score distribution ranging from 0 to 100. It is 0.15.

This function has been chosen for the following reasons:

  • When no abuse against journalists is registered in a country in a given year, the abuse score is 100.
  • When the number of abuses increases, the score declines and tends towards 0.

Choice of coefficients

The ki coefficients establish a hierarchy of the different kinds of abuses. Three main levels of seriousness are established:

  • Abuses not contravening a non-derogable right under Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions (coefficient of 1) :
    • physical attack;
    • arrest;
    • ransacking of a media outlet.
  • Abuses contravening a non-derogable right under Common Article 3 of the four Geneva Conventions:
    • hostage taking (coefficient of 50);
    • detention (coefficient varying from 25 o 50, according to length of detention);
    • murder (coefficient of 100, because it is an irreversible violation).

 

Coefficients

Abuse category (xi)

Coefficient (ki)

Murder

100

Abduction

50

Detention for > 10 years

50

Detention for 9-10 years

47.5

Detention for 8-9 years

45

Detention for 7-8 years

42.5

Detention for 6-7 years

40

Detention for 5-6 years

37.5

Detention for 4-5 years

35

Detention for 3-4 years

32.5

Detention for 2-3 years

30

Detention for 1-2 years

27.5

Detention for < 1 year

25

Media attacked, ransacked

1

Physical attack

1

Arrest

1

Population data sources

The country or territory’s population size is used to calculate the abuses score. The population figures used are those published by the World Bank, except in the following cases, where the source is specified:

The population figures used are the most recent available, namely 2020 for the 2022 Index, with certain exceptions.

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