The latest Press Freedom Index published by Reporters Without Borders (RSF) on Tuesday no longer includes Germany among the leading nations.
Of the 180 countries assessed, Germany came 13th, down two spots from last year’s ranking.
“Due to many attacks during demonstrations against measures to contain the pandemic, we had to reduce Germany’s grade for press freedom from ‘good’ to only ‘satisfactory,’ which is clearly an alarm signal,” said RSF board spokesperson Michael Rediske.
Violence against media professionals in Germany has reached unprecedented levels, he said.
There were at least 65 acts of violence against journalists in the country in 2020, a five-fold increase compared to 2019, he said.
RSF said it also thought there were more unreported cases in 2020 than in the past.
Most of the physical and verbal attacks occurred during or alongside demonstrations, for instance protests against government coronavirus restrictions.
“Journalists were punched, kicked and pushed to the ground, they were spat on and harassed, insulted, threatened and prevented from doing their work,” RSF said.
The change in Germany’s grade from “good” to “fairly good” means it also changes colour on RSF’s world map, from white to yellow.
Only 12 countries were rated “good” in terms of press freedom, the lowest number since the rating began.
Norway, Finland and Sweden came out top of the list.
There was little change among those ranked lowest, which included China, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
RSF criticized the fact that many governments and leaders were spreading disinformation about the pandemic, including former US president Donald Trump, Brazil’s Jair Bolsonaro and Venezuela’s Nicolas Maduro.
The pandemic led to an increase in repression worldwide, according to RSF, which noted that media workers had been arrested for covering the outbreak in countries including China, Venezuela, Serbia and Kosovo.
In China, more than 100 media workers are currently in prison, more than in any other country worldwide.
Rediske said he hopes that as the world recovers from the pandemic and returns to normality there will also be a renewed sense of journalism’s indispensable role in functioning societies.