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Reporters Without Borders ranks Russia 141st for media freedom

MOSCOW, October 22 (RIA Novosti) - Russia has been ranked 141 out of 173 countries in the 2008 press freedom index published on Wednesday by the international organization Reporters Without Borders.

The report's authors say the Russian media "continues to be subject to violence and harassment." Russia, up from 144th in 2007 and 147th in 2006 but still not back to the 138th spot it occupied in 2005, was ranked between Mexico (140th) and Ethiopia (142nd).

The research is based on events that took place between September 1, 2007, and September 1, 2008. It is aimed to show the degree of freedom that journalists and media enjoy in a country and efforts by its authorities to respect and ensure press freedom.

The index is based on 49 criteria, including "every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment)."

"It is not economic prosperity but peace that guarantees press freedom. That is the main lesson to be drawn from the world press freedom index," the organization said in the report.

Most of the top 20 countries are European, except for New Zealand (7th) and Canada (13th). The top three countries are Iceland, Luxembourg and Norway. The former Soviet republics Estonia and Latvia were fourth and seventh, respectively.

France has lost four positions in the rating and was ranked 35th. Italy (44th) and Spain (36th) have also showed mediocre rankings, "due, in the former, to a poor overall climate and to mafia threats and violence, and in the latter, to the fear imposed by the Basque armed separatist group ETA."

The United States is level with Spain in 36th place, climbing 12 spots in part thanks to the "release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base."

Press freedom has significantly deteriorated in the Caucasus, where "two of its three independent countries - Armenia (102nd) and Georgia (120th) - had major problems and introduced states of emergency." Several journalists were killed in the brief armed conflict between Georgia and its breakaway republic of South Ossetia in August.

Azerbaijan, which did not introduce the state of emergency during the relevant period was, however, ranked 150th.

The former Soviet Central Asian countries continue to lag far behind, with Turkmenistan (171st) and Uzbekistan (162nd) coming in the bottom 20, along with Belarus (154th). Ukraine (88th), Kazakhstan (125th) and Kyrgyzstan (111th), however, were ranked higher than Russia.

Below Turkmenistan in the bottom three - the "infernal trio," which is unchanged from last year - are North Korea (172nd) and Eritrea (173rd).

Reporters Without Borders is registered in France as a non-profit organization and has consultant status at the United Nations.