WASHINGTON -- The Americas saw the greatest deterioration in press freedom of any part of the world during the last year, a press advocacy group said Thursday.
The 2019 World Press Freedom Index compiled by Reporters Without Borders shows that Nicaragua fell 24 places from the previous year's list due to attacks on journalists covering protests against President Daniel Ortega. Some journalists fled abroad, fearing they might be jailed on terrorism charges.
El Salvador saw the region's second steepest fall — 15 places — because journalists suffered armed attacks, harassment and intimidation by politicians, according to the report.
There were also poor performances in Venezuela, Brazil, United States and Mexico. The latter is one of the world's deadliest countries for the media, with at least 10 journalists slain in 2018.
The press group registered a record number of arbitrary arrests and cases of violence by the authorities in Venezuela, and many journalists left that country to avoid retribution.
The report said that never before in the United States have journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security companies for protection. An armed man walked into the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland, and killed four journalists and another employee last June.
The situation in the Americas reflects a global trend in which the number of countries regarded as safe for journalists continues to decline, given the hostility expressed by political leaders.
"If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly toward a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger," said the group's secretary-general, Christophe Deloire.
Costa Rica continues to be the best-ranked country of the Americas by far, with a 10th place among 180 countries evaluated. Cuba is at the other end of the hemispheric spectrum.
The World Press Freedom Index assesses six separate benchmarks and assigns each country a score calculated from answers to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts around the world.
Norway is ranked first for the third consecutive year and Turkmenistan replaced North Korea in last place.
Luis Alonso Lugo on Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/luisalonsolugo