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Rwanda is no US when it comes to press freedom – but it's also no Somalia

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Jacky Naegelen/Reuters

(Read caption) Activists from Reporters Without Borders (RSF) and Amnesty International hold a banner which reads "Russia, freedom murdered" during a demonstration to commemorate the death of anti-Kremlin Russian journalist Anna Politkovskaya at Trocadero near the Eiffel Tower in Paris October 6, 2010. Politkovskaya, 48, who reported extensively on the conflict in Chechyna, was shot dead in the lift of her apartment at Moscow in 2006.

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The press freedom index of Reporters Without Borders (RSF) is bound to cause a stir among Rwanda-watchers. The Paris-based group called Rwanda among the 10 worst violators of press freedom in the world, right along with North Korea, Burma and Iran. It’s also the third-worst in Africa; only Eritrea, where there basically aren’t any journalists who aren’t in jail, and Sudan are worse. Even Somalia ranks better than Rwanda.

I’m not sold. Here’s why.

Let’s get the genre objections out of the way first. I’m not a big believer in indices. They usually feel more like media gimmicks than analytical tools to me. But everybody loves lists – and sometimes, people like to be on them. Show me a list with an air-tight methodology, and I’ll call you a liar. (The RSF methodology seems to me pretty wanting, but if you’re the same kind of nerd as I am, you’ll check out their questionnaire, scoring sheet, and sparse methodological explanation and decide for yourself if you’re satisfied.)

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