Press freedom in European Union member countries is deteriorating overall, Reporters Without Borders warned today following the release of its 2010 World Press Freedom Index.

The annual index of 178 countries, which is in its ninth year, measures violations of press freedom across the globe and is based on events between 1 September 2009 and 1 September 2010.

It is compiled by assigning a score and position to each country based on responses to a questionnaire handed out to partner organisations of Reporters Without Borders, its network of 140 correspondents worldwide, as well as journalists, researchers, legal professionals and human rights activists.

According to the group, the report confirms fears that press freedom is "deteriorating" in the European Union.

While 13 of the EU's 27 members are in the top 20 for press freedom, the divide between high and low performers is also growing, with Italy 49th, Romania 52nd and Greece and Bulgaria joint 70th.

Reporters Without Borders added that there has been a lack of progress in countries previously highlighted as an issue.

"They include, above all, France and Italy, where events of the past year – violation of the protection of journalists' sources, the continuing concentration of media ownership, displays of contempt and impatience on the part of government officials towards journalists and their work, and judicial summonses – have confirmed their inability to reverse this trend," a report on the index says.

"Our latest world press freedom index contains welcome surprises, highlights sombre realities and confirms certain trends," secretary-general Jean-François Julliard added.

"More than ever before, we see that economic development, institutional reform and respect for fundamental rights do not necessarily go hand in hand. The defence of media freedom continues to be a battle, a battle of vigilance in the democracies of old Europe and a battle against oppression and injustice in the totalitarian regimes still scattered across the globe."

In recent years, Reporters Without Borders says it drew particular attention to three countries that appeared to always be in the bottom three positions – Eritrea, North Korea and Turkmenistan.

In today's report they remain the bottom three, followed closely by seven other countries which have all dropped in their ranking since the previous report - Iran, Burma, Syria, Sudan, China, Yemen and Rwanda.

"The press freedom situation keeps on deteriorating in these countries and it is getting harder to say which is worse than the other," the report adds.

"The difference between the scores of the 'best' and 'worst' of the last 10 countries was only 24.5 points this year. It was 37.5 points in 2009 and 43.25 points in 2007."

"This does not bode well for 2011," Julliard added. "Unfortunately, the trend in the most authoritarian countries is not one of improvement."

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