Mapped: The State of Press Freedom Around the World
View a more detailed version of the above map by clicking here
In many Western countries, it’s easy to take press freedom for granted.
Instances of fake news, clickbait, and hyper-partisan reporting are points of consternation in the modern media landscape, and can sometimes overshadow the greater good that unrestricted journalism provides to society.
Of course, the ability to do that important work can vary significantly around the world. Being an investigative journalist in Sweden comes with a very different set of circumstances and considerations than doing the same thing in a country such as Saudi Arabia or Venezuela.
Today’s map highlights the results of the 2020 Global Press Freedom Index, produced by Reporters Without Borders. The report looks at press freedom in 180 countries and territories.
A Profession Not Without Its Risks
Today, nearly 75% of countries are in categories that the report describes as problematic, difficult, and very serious.
While these negative forces often come in the form of censorship and intimidation, journalism can be a risky profession in some of the more restrictive countries. One example is Mexico, where nearly 60 journalists were killed as a direct result of their reporting over the last decade.
There is good news though: the number of journalists killed last year was the lowest since the report began in 2002.
Even better, press freedom scores increased around the world in the 2020 report.
Press Freedom: The Good, The Bad, The Ugly
Here are the scores for all 180 countries and territories covered in the report, sorted by 2020 ranking and score:
|Rank (2020)||Country or Region||Score (2020)||Prev. Rank (2019)||Change in Rank|
|#7||🇨🇷 Costa Rica||10.53||10||3|
|#9||🇳🇿 New Zealand||10.69||7||-2|
|#36||Trinidad and Tobago||23.22||39||3|
|#46||Papua New Guinea||23.93||38||-8|
|#58||Bosnia and Herzegovina||28.51||63||5|
|#131||United Arab Emirates||42.69||133||2|
Which countries stood out in this year’s edition of the press freedom rankings?
Norway: Nordic Countries have topped the Press Freedom Index since its inception, and Norway (Rank: #1) in particular is an example for the world. Despite a very free media environment, the government recently mandated a commission to conduct a comprehensive review of the conditions for freedom of speech. Members will consider measures to promote the broadest possible participation in the public debate, and means to hamper the spread of fake news and hate speech.
Malaysia: A new government ushered in a less restrictive era in Malaysia in 2018. Journalists and media outlets that had been blacklisted were able to resume working, and anti-fake news laws that were viewed as problematic were repealed. As a result, Malaysia’s index score has improved by 15 points in the past two years. This is in sharp contrast to neighbor, Singapore, which is ranked 158th out of 180 countries.
Ethiopia: When Abiy Ahmed Ali took power in Africa’s second most populous country in 2018, his government restored access to over 200 news websites and blogs that had been previously blocked. As well, many detained journalists and bloggers were released as the chill over the country’s highly restrictive media environment began to thaw. As a result, Ethiopia (#99) jumped up eleven spots in the Press Freedom Index in 2020.
The Middle East: Though the situation in this region has begun to stabilize somewhat, restrictions still remain – even in relatively safe and stable countries. Both Saudi Arabia (#170) and Egypt (#166) have imprisoned a number of journalists in recent years, and the former is still dealing with the reputational fallout from the assassination of Saudi dissident and Washington Post columnist, Jamal Khashoggi.
China: Sitting near the bottom of the list is China (#176). More than 100 journalists and bloggers are currently detained as the country maintains a tight grip over the press – particularly as COVID-19 began to spread. Earlier this year, the Chinese government also expelled over a dozen journalists representing U.S. publications.
2020: A Pivotal Year for the Press
As the world grapples with a deadly pandemic, a global economic shutdown, and a crucial election year, the media could find itself in the spotlight more than in previous years.
How the stories of 2020 are told will influence our collective future – and how regimes choose to treat journalists under this atypical backdrop will tell us a lot about press freedom going forward.
How Much Do Countries Spend on Healthcare Compared to the Military?
Every year, governments spend trillions on healthcare and defense. But how much is spent per person, and how does this compare by country?
Healthcare vs. Military Spending, by Country
Keeping citizens both healthy and secure are key priorities for many national governments around the world—but ultimately, decisions must be made on how tax dollars are spent to accomplish these objectives, and funding must fall into one bucket or another.
This infographic from PixlParade examines how much 46 different countries put towards healthcare and military spending in 2018, per capita.
Head to Head: Healthcare versus Military
Data for government and compulsory healthcare spending comes from the Organization for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD). Note that these figures do not include spending through private insurance or out-of-pocket expenses.
Meanwhile, the data for military spending comes from the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute (SIPRI).
|Country||Health spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)||Military spending (Per capita, 2018 US$)|
|Source: OECD||Source: SIPRI|
Note: There are minor discrepancies in comparing table data to original sources due to recent estimate updates. Figures for Brazil, South Africa, China, Indonesia, and India come from the World Bank (2017).
The Top 10 Healthcare Spenders
The U.S. leads the world in government healthcare spending at $9,008 per capita – over 1.5 times that of Norway, the next-highest country examined.
|Country||Per capita health spending||% of GDP||% of health spending|
While per-capita government spending on healthcare in the U.S. is the highest in the world, this has not necessarily brought about better outcomes (such as longer life expectancy) compared to other developed nations.
It’s also worth mentioning that the above figures do not cover all healthcare costs incurred by citizens, as they do not account for private insurance spending or out-of-pocket expenses. According to OECD data, these additional costs tend to be the highest in places like Switzerland and the United States.
The Top 10 Military Spenders
Israel has the highest rate of military spending per capita, and has the distinction of being the only country on this list to invest more in defense than in healthcare.
|Country||Per capita military spending||% of GDP||Total expenditure, US$M|
Although the United States comes in second place here as well, in absolute terms, the U.S. puts more money into military expenditures than many other countries combined, at almost $700 billion per year.
Political Longshots That Caught America by Surprise
Nothing is certain in politics until the results are in. Here’s a roundup of the most surprising longshot victories in American history.
Millions of Americans rely on polls and the media to gauge the direction of political elections. Politics are sometimes unpredictable though, and on occasion, election outcomes can defy conventional wisdom.
These surprises, known as political longshots, are scattered throughout American political history. As time winds down to the 59th U.S. presidential election in November, today’s visual article from PredictIt goes back in time to showcase moments when polls, media outlets, and the American public were left stunned.
The Truman Show
As elections approached in 1948, incumbent Harry Truman led a struggling Democratic party.
Not only had they lost control of both chambers of Congress two years prior, they also faced internal divide over Truman’s civil rights initiatives. To make matters worse, Truman’s approval rating in June 1948 sat at just 39%.
Pollsters and the media were unanimous in declaring Republican Thomas Dewey the next president, but this didn’t discourage Truman from running a tactical campaign which featured:
- Clear demographic focus: Truman campaigned heavily in rural communities where working-class citizens felt neglected.
- Populist messaging: Truman often attacked Republicans, pinning them with the blame for a range of issues.
Despite being overlooked by many, Truman went on to claim a decisive victory. This caused one of the most famous media blunders in U.S. history—with high confidence in the polls, editors at the Chicago Daily Tribune prematurely reported Dewey as the winner of the election.
We stopped polling a few weeks too soon. We had been lulled into thinking that nothing much changes in the last few weeks of the campaign.
—George Gallup Jr.
Pollsters took a hit to their credibility, but used the opportunity to refine their methods. They extended the deadlines of polls and, over time, began using a methodology known as random sampling. This replaced quota sampling, a methodology prone to bias because it questioned a predetermined number of people from certain ethnic and age groups.
After losing the Republican primary to Joe Miller, incumbent senator Lisa Murkowski decided to run in 2010 as a write-in candidate. A somewhat unique aspect of American politics, a write-in candidate is one whose name does not appear on the ballot, and instead needs to be written in by the voter directly.
Miller, the Republican nominee, was supported by the Tea Party movement and former Alaskan governor Sarah Palin. All momentum seemed to be in his favor, according to polls conducted roughly a month ahead of election day:
|Poll||Date Administered||Joe Miller (R)||Lisa Murkowski (R)||Scott McAdams (D)|
|Raasmussen Reports||Sept. 19, 2010||42%||27%||25%|
|Moore Research||Sept. 23-27, 2010||43%||18%||28%|
|CNN, Time, Opinion Research||Sept. 24-28, 2010||38%||36%||22%|
Source: Rasmussen Reports, Moore Research, CNN/Time/Opinion Research
Despite Miller’s lead in the polls, Murkowski’s write-in campaign was able to capitalize on the state’s significant number of independent voters. On election day, Murkowski collected 101,091 write-in votes—a comfortable margin above Miller’s 90,839 votes.
[I]n our state, we have got over 54 percent of the electorate that chooses not to align themselves with any party at all, not Republican, not Democratic, not green, not anything.
Miller challenged 8,000 write-in votes on the basis of name misspellings, but his claims were rejected by the Alaska Superior Court—perfect spelling on write-in ballots is not required if the voter’s intent is clear.
The Trump Train
Donald Trump’s 2016 victory will likely top the list as one of the most shocking political events of our time. As election day approached, many of America’s mainstream media outlets pointed to a decisive Clinton victory.
by electoral count
by electoral count
|New York Times|
by chance of winning
by chance of winning
Source: The Wrap, CNN
While Trump’s rhetoric was largely opposed in urban regions (which often lean Democrat), the media failed to recognize that his message was resonating in America’s industrial Midwest. One potential explanation for this is that the region’s manufacturing jobs had been drying up, causing workers to feel abandoned by the existing political establishment.
This led to a number of Democrat-controlled states flipping Republican, and was a critical force for propelling Trump to the White House.
In PredictIt’s market, Will Trump Win the 2016 Presidential Election, traders also underestimated Trump’s chances of winning. Throughout the entire campaign phase, Trump’s “yes” shares failed to break past the 50 cents marker.
Share prices climbed 64% after FBI Director James Comey released his letter regarding the Clinton email investigation, but these gains were erased in the days leading up to elections. It wasn’t until November 8th, election day, that the prediction market swung by an incredible 345% in favor of Trump.
The Rise of AOC
The biggest surprise from the 2018 midterm primaries was Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s (AOC) victory over incumbent Joseph Crowley in New York’s 14th Congressional District. That’s because the two candidates were nearly complete opposites of one another:
|Metric||Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez||Joseph Crowley|
|Past Political Experience||Organizer for Bernie Sanders' 2016 presidential campaign||U.S. Representative from New York's 14th congressional district (1999-2019)|
Source: abc news
AOC led a grassroots campaign appealing to the district’s ethnically diverse population, which many believed Crowley could not relate with. Her platform included:
Also lending to the surprise factor was AOC’s relatively sparse media coverage. Because her campaign was largely operated through social media platforms such as Twitter and Instagram, it flew under the radar of traditional political media coverage.
The traditional media pay attention to one metric—money—but there should be other considerations: number of volunteers, social-media engagement, small-dollar donations.
—Dave Weigel, Washington Post
AOC would go on to win New York’s 14th Congressional District in the 2018 midterm election, defeating Republican Anthony Pappas with 110,318 votes to 19,202, to become the youngest woman to ever serve in the U.S. Congress. More recently, she secured her re-election in the 2020 Democratic primaries. This time, however, it comes as less of a surprise.
The very definition of a longshot means that they are difficult to quantify and predict.
However, one potential longshot in the making may be 21-time Grammy Award winner Kanye West, who announced his intention to run for president on July 4th. While he hasn’t taken any official steps towards running as an independent candidate, he has garnered the support of notable figures like Tesla CEO Elon Musk. West first declared his interest in the presidency during an acceptance speech at the 2015 MTV Video Music Awards.
Looking further down the road, Democratic presidential nominee Joe Biden has still not declared his running mate. Much is at stake for Democrats hoping to deny Trump a second term, and the VP nominee will likely play a significant role in how the party performs. Biden has a long list of candidates that, for the first time in history, predominantly features women of color.
Speculation is ramping up as the 2020 presidential elections approach. While it’s difficult to say when politics will surprise us again, more longshots are sure to be in store.
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