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Blasphemy law pushes Ireland from first to tenth in press index

The 2010 Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index sees several EU countries fall, including Ireland.

IRELAND HAS FALLEN NINE places from the top of the international press freedom index due to the introduction of blasphemy legislation last year.

Reporters Without Borders, which compiles the list, had placed Ireland joint-first last year along with Denmark, Finland, Norway and Sweden, the Irish Times reports.

The organisation told the IT that while “the situation in relation to press freedom in general in Ireland is quite good”, Ireland lost a lot of points this year because of the new legislation:

The possible consequences of this law, both in Ireland and internationally, are very worrying.

Under the legislation passed in July 2009, blasphemy is a crime punishable with a fine of up to €25,000.

The Guardian reports that blasphemy was defined as “publishing or uttering matter that is grossly abusive or insulting in relation to matter sacred by any religion, thereby intentionally causing outrage among a substantial number of adherent of that religion, with some defences permitted”.

Its introduction sparked a range of protests by Atheist Ireland and by artists. In April, Time magazine covered the Blasphemous exhibition which was inspired by the blasphemy law. Over 9,000 people have ‘liked’ a Facebook page called No Blasphemy Law in Ireland.

In March, speculation that the government would hold an autumn referendum on the law was downplayed by Minister Dermot Ahern who said there were no plans for such a referendum in “the immediate future”, according to the Irish Times.

EU standards for press freedom falling

This year’s Press Freedom Index places Finland, Iceland, the Netherlands, Norway, Sweden and Switzerland in joint first place, but RWB’s secretary-general Jean-Francois Julliard said it was disturbing to see several EU members falling:

If it does not pull itself together, the European Union risks losing its position as world leader in respect for human rights. And if that were to happen, how could it be convincing when it asked authoritarian regimes to make improvements? There is an urgent need for the European countries to recover their exemplary status.

RWB said there has been no progress in several countries previously identified as having problems, including France and Italy. The organisation said that events of the past year “have confirmed their inability to reverse this trend”.

Iceland was singled out as one of the countries which shows continuing progress on press freedom. RWB said proposed Icelandic media legislation would provide a “unique level of protection for the media”.