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Last Updated: Tuesday, 26 October, 2004, 18:23 GMT 19:23 UK
Press 'least free' in Asia, Cuba
Journalists carry wounded colleague at Palestine Hotel, 8 April, 2003
More than 40 journalists have died in Iraq since March 2003
Press freedom is most under threat in Asia and the Middle East, according to a report from media watchdog Reporters Without Borders.

The campaigning group rated North Korea as the worst country in the world in its annual index of press freedom.

Cuba ranked second worst for being "second only to China as the biggest prison for journalists", with 26 in jail along with some 50 dissidents.

This is the third annual index published by the Paris-based group.

The group rated 167 countries based on a survey of journalists and human rights activists.

1. North Korea
2. Cuba
3. Burma
4. Turkmenistan
5. Eritrea
6. China
7. Vietnam
8. Nepal
9. Saudi Arabia
10. Iran

The top-scoring countries for press freedom were in northern Europe, with Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Iceland, the Netherlands and Norway among the top 10.

Burma, China, Vietnam and Laos ranked among the worst 20, along with Saudi Arabia, Iran, Syria and Iraq.

These countries lack an independent media or journalists are "persecuted and censored", the group says.

North Korea forced journalists to "serve the cult of personality of dictator Kim Jong-il", it said.

The former Soviet republic of Turkmenistan ranked third worst for its complete lack of independently owned media.


The deadliest place for the media was Iraq (ranked 148th), with 44 Iraqi and foreign journalist killed there since March last year.

1. Denmark
- Finland
- Iceland
- Ireland
- Netherlands
- Norway
- Slovakia
- Switzerland
9. New Zealand
10. Latvia

At least 14 journalists were detained in Iran (158th), and a free press remained a "mirage" in Tunisia (152nd), Saudi Arabia (159th), Syria (155th) and Libya.

There was also stark criticism for Russia, ranked 140th, over its handling of the media during the Beslan hostage crisis.

"The biased coverage... was a flagrant illustration of the total control exercised by the Kremlin over the national TV stations," the group said.

The United States, ranked 22nd, also came in for criticism for violating the privacy of sources, problems in giving press visas and the arrest of several journalists during anti-Bush demonstrations.

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