Israel dropped 47 places in Reporters Without Border's annual Press Freedom Index released on Tuesday, putting it in 93rd place out of 175.
The fall, attributed to Israel's treatment of journalists during Operation Cast Lead last winter, placed Israel behind other Middle-Eastern countries such as Lebanon, Kuwait and the United Arab Emirates.
"Israel has begun to use the same methods internally as it does outside its own territory," read the analysis accompanying the index. "Reporters Without Borders registered five arrests of journalists, some of them completely illegal, and three cases of imprisonment. The military censorship applied to all the media is also posing a threat to journalists."
Israel was also singled out, along with the United States, for media influence it holds outside its borders, meaning in Gaza and the West Bank.
"As regards its extraterritorial actions, Israel was ranked 150th. The toll of the war was very heavy. Around 20 journalists in the Gaza Strip were injured by the Israeli military forces and three were killed while covering the offensive," read the report.
To compile the index, Reporters Without Borders prepared a questionnaire with 40 criteria that assess the state of press freedom in each country. The questionnaire asks RWB members and affiliates to report on different kinds of violations that affect journalists, such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats; and those that effect news media more generally such as censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment. It also asks affiliates to measure the level of self-censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticize those in power. RWB then takes the questionnaires, tabulates its results and uses a scale to rank each one of the countries.
"Reporters Without Borders has no legal commission. They are a self-proclaimed journalism organization. Their populist attempt to create polls that evaluate the freedom of the press in different countries has no substance," said Daniel Seaman, director of the Government Press Office, the body in charge of issuing press accreditation and facilitating press coverage of key state functions and visits of foreign dignitaries.
"Anybody who works here as a journalist - that includes especially the foreign journalists - should know that this country has full freedom of the press. This organization has a history of biased and antagonistic attitude toward Israel. All they're doing now is jumping on the bandwagon of anti-Israel sentiment. We don't have to get worked up every time one of these organizations is looking to give themselves some publicity."
Seaman said that Reporters Without Border employed Palestinians to make the evaluations and therefore he wasn't surprised by the results.
"All in all I'm actually happy that these things are happening, because I think that how ridiculous these organizations have become is becoming very apparent," he said.
RWB was using journalistic values as cover to bash Israel, Seaman said. "Now they have removed the masks and we don't have to treat them with any level of seriousness because it's quite clear where they stand and what they're about."
Denmark, Finland, Ireland, Norway and Sweden tied for first place on the list, followed by Estonia, the Netherlands and Switzerland. The highest ranked non-European country was New Zealand, which placed 13th.
In 17th place, Japan was the highest ranked Asian country and in 19th place, Canada was the first North American entry, one spot ahead of the United States.
Reporters Without Border credited the 20 spot rise of the United States in the ranking to the election of a new president. "Barack Obama's election as president and the fact that he has a less hawkish approach than his predecessor have had a lot to do with this," read the report.
The last spots on the list went to Cuba, Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
"Journalists have suffered more than ever this year in Mahmoud Ahmadinejad's Iran. The president's disputed reelection plunged the country into a major crisis and fostered regime paranoia about journalists and bloggers.
"Automatic prior censorship, state surveillance of journalists, mistreatment, journalists forced to flee the country, illegal arrests and imprisonment - such is the state of press freedom this year in Iran," read the report.
Israel's neighbors also fared poorly in the index. Egypt placed 143rd, Jordan 112th, Syria 165th, Saudi Arabia 163rd and the Palestinian Territories 161.
Other notable countries that scored low were Turkey at 122, Russia at 153 and China in the 168th spot.
Directly bracketing Israel in the ranking were the West African country of Guinea-Bissau at 92 and Qatar at 94.