Germany lost status in the annual press-freedom rankings by a journalism advocacy group, sliding from 18th to 23rd place amid revelations that the country's foreign intelligence service has been spying on journalists.
No matter who delivers the news, the press should be free
In its fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) reported an overall incursion of state security issue on press freedom around the world.
State action against the magazine lowered Germany's ranking
Germany dropped five places, mainly on the discovery that officers from the country's foreign intelligence service, BND, were spying on journalists until the government ordered them to stop a few months ago.
The report also mentioned a writ issued by the German Criminal Investigation Office (BKA) against journalists at the political magazine Cicero, accusing them of betraying state secrets, and a raid of Cicero's editorial offices; death threats against a caricaturist at the newspaper Tagesspiegel; and problems with obtaining information since the country's Freedom of Information Act came into effect.
Denmark sinks on cartoon uproar
The ranking left Germany below states like Latvia, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Trinidad and Tobago, and Bolivia.
For many people, reading the paper is part of their daily routine
A handful of northern European countries -- Finland, Ireland, Iceland and the Netherlands -- topped the list, to share first place. Denmark, which led the pack last year, sank to 19th place because of threats against the authors of Danish cartoons spoofing the Prophet Mohammed.
Meanwhile, limitations of civil rights in the name of "the war on terror" eroded press freedom in the US and Russia, RSF said. The US dropped a full nine places to 53rd place – putting it around the same level as the countries Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. The first time the report was issued, in 2002, the US stood at 17th place.
Does Bush use the 'War on Terror' as an excuse to defame journalists?
"The relationship between the press and the Bush government has drastically eroded since the president, under the pretense of national security, has begun seeing every journalist as suspect who questions his 'war on terror,'" RSF wrote.
Russia's ranking falls further
Russia tumbled to 147th place in this year's report. The recent murder of Anna Politkovskaya -- a vocal critic of Moscow and its Chechnya policies -- highlighted the dramatic situation for journalists there.
"Russia, which is lacking in basic democracy, is slowly and surely eliminating press freedom," the report said. "Business groups with tight connections to Vladimir Putin have bought up nearly all independent media."
Report says Putin's cronies are throttling the press
The worst offenders in media repression continued to be North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma and China, where journalists "are still risking their lives or imprisonment for trying to keep us informed," RSF said.
Boost for Bolivia
But the report was not all bleak. Bolivia made it into the top 20 for the first time, putting it now above Germany. It got the best ranking of all poor countries: "Press freedom is respected there exactly as much as in Canada or Austria," the report said.
Reporters without Borders uses 50 criteria to establish the rankings, among them the extent of violence against journalists as well as the country's judicial context. War, political repression, national security concerns and rising nationalism also pose threats to journalistic liberty.