Israel, Russia, U.S. Lose Ground in 2015 Press Freedom Report

Israel falls five places in Reporters Without Borders' annual index, from 96 to 101, sandwiched between Kenya and Guinea.

Press freedom has taken a hit in Russia, the United States, Japan and many parts of Europe over the past year, according to the Reporters Without Borders latest ranking of global press freedoms. 

War, the rise of non-state groups, crackdowns on demonstrations and economic crises provided a backdrop for a tough 2014. The Paris-based media watchdog said two-thirds of the 180 countries surveyed in its annual World Press Freedom index scored worse than a year earlier.

Israel fell five places in this year's index, from 96 to 101, sandwiched between Kenya and Guinea.

"For Israel, 2014 was marked by its Operation Protective Edge against the Gaza Strip, which cost the lives of 15 journalists and media workers," Reporters Without Borders writes in the 2015 index.

"The authorities also stepped up control of program content on their own TV stations during the offensive, banning a spot made by the Israeli NGO B’Tselem that cited the names of 150 children who had been killed in the Gaza Strip. In the West Bank, the Israeli security forces deliberately fired rubber bullets and teargas at Palestinian journalists."

Western Europe, while top-ranked, lost the most ground as a region. Three Nordic countries headed the list, but there was slippage in Italy — where mafia and other threats weighed on journalists — and Iceland, where the relationship between the media and politicians soured, the group said.

Italy also saw "an increasing number of abusive defamation proceedings against journalists," Lucie Morillon, a research director at Reporters Without Borders, told The Associated Press. Italy plunged 24 spots in the classification to 73rd.

The U.S. fell three places to 49th amid a "war on information" by the Obama administration in some cases. Reporters also faced difficulty covering events like demonstrations in Ferguson, Missouri, where a black teenager was shot dead in August by a white police officer, Morillon said.

Russia dropped two notches to 152nd place after passing "draconian laws" to limit freedom of information, the group said.

Egypt rose one place to 158th even though it currently detains 15 journalists "on arbitrary grounds" including two al-Jazeera employees who have been held since December 2013, the group said.

Libya fell 17 spots to 154th place: Reporting on militia activities in the war-torn north African country is "an act of heroism," Reporters Without Borders said.

Legislation allowing access to information helped Mongolia jump 34 spots — the highest single advance — to 54th place, and reforms helped Georgia rise to 69th place, up 15 spots.

China, Iran and North Korea all remained among the 10 lowest-ranked countries.

The group uses seven criteria to calculate its index — measures for media independence, the diversity of opinions expressed, self-censorship, transparency, abuses and the legislative environment. Results are based on questionnaires sent to its own correspondents, plus journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights defenders.