Friday, October 19, 2007

Freedom and the North

Freedom of the press, anyway.

An annual survey was released recently on the freedom of the news media in 169 countries. It's really odd, but there seems to be a trend that northern countries have more media freedom.

Northern Europe1 includes 8 of the 10 most-free news industries and 12 of the top 20!

There's no similar pattern in the Southern Hemisphere. There, countries closer to the South Pole don't have more journalistic freedom than countries closer to the Equator.
                Immigrant Song
           Jimmy Page/Robert Plant

We come from the land of the ice and snow
From the midnight sun where the hot springs flow....
The 5 Nordic countries are the superstars - all are among the 10 top countries in the list. These 5 plus 3 other, big countries have land north of the Arctic Circle,2 and the 8 arctic countries are in underlined bold in the list below.

Sadly, the three giants of the Arctic Circle aren't the other three northern countries in the top 10. Only Canada is even in the top 20. The two countries that stare at each other across the Bering Strait aren't quite as hands-off with their news media.

One, at least, is in the top 30% while the other is in the bottom 15%.

The 3 "Baltic States" are also commonly thought of as part of Northern Europe (for sound cultural reasons). They take spots 3, 12, and 23 on the list, and are in red.

Extending the curious correlation of more north ≈ more free,3 Estonia is north of Latvia and also higher on the list. Likewise, Latvia is north of Lithuania as well as higher on the list.

In addition, the British-​Irish Isles (or Irish-​British Isles, or British-​Channel-​Irish-​Man Isles, or....) are often included in "Northern Europe." The Republic of Ireland is #8, and the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland is #24.4 They're listed in blue.

Finally, the other countries bordering the North and Baltic Seas are sometimes thrown in with Northern Europe (and are here in green): Belgium (#5), the Netherlands (#12), Germany (#20), and Poland (not so good at #56).5

So there's an apparent relationship that says countries closest to the North Pole seem to give journalists the most freedom. Is this only a Northern Hemisphere situation? Or does something similar hold in the Southern Hemisphere?

No such luck.

Is it because there aren't any countries inside the Antarctic Circle - "just" the continent of Antarctica? Who knows what lies behind this mystery?

Only one of the nearby countries is in the top 20, with the rest trailing behind. The countries closest to Antarctica are New Zealand (#15), Australia (#28), Chile (#39), and Argentina (#82).

So here are selections from the list that ranks countries by "Freedom of the press": the top 20, the bottom 10, and all the countries mentioned above:

Arctic countries
Baltic States
British-Irish Isles
Baltic/North Sea countries

  1 (tie)   Iceland
  1 (tie)   Norway
  3 (tie)   Estonia
  3 (tie)   Slovakia
  5 (tie)   Belgium
  5 (tie)   Finland
  5 (tie)   Sweden
  8 (tie)   Denmark
  8 (tie)   Ireland
  8 (tie)   Portugal
 11         Switzerland
 12 (tie)   Latvia
 12 (tie)   the Netherlands
 14         Czech Republic
 15         New Zealand
 16         Austria
 17         Hungary
 18         Canada
 19         Trinidad and Tobago
 20         Germany
 23         Lithuania
 24         United Kingdom
 28         Australia
 31         France
 39         Chile
 48         United States of America
 56 (tie)   Poland
 82         Argentina
144         Russia
... and the bottom 10 ...
160         Uzbekistan
161         Laos
162         Vietnam
163         China
164         Burma
165         Cuba
166         Iran
167         Turkmenistan
168         North Korea
169         Eritrea

Arctic countries
Baltic States
British-Irish Isles
Baltic/North Sea countries

1I'm using a broad but standard definition of Northern Europe that includes Belgium, the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Germany, Iceland, Ireland, the Isle of Man, Latvia, Lithuania, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Sweden, and the UK. Oh, all right. And France.

2Iceland just squeaks across the Arctic Circle with the island of Grímsey. The "Northern Countries" boundary can be moved south a couple of degrees, but past 61°N, Scotland's Shetland Islands get included.

Mainland Denmark and most of its islands are safely below the imaginary line, but Greenland and the Faroe Islands give the country standing in the Arctic Circle circle.

3Technically, the relationship between the concepts would probably be better symbolized with "∝" ("is proportional to") rather than "≈" ("is almost equal to"). But then, less technically, "≈" seems less technical than "∝".

4Other entities such as Isle of Man and the Channel Island Bailiwicks of Guernsey and Jersey aren't on the list.

5Okay, and France (#31) has a tiny slice of the North Sea. But it's a Mediterranean country, too. Insert Gallic shrug here.

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