Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi was murdered inside the embassy of Saudi Arabia in Istanbul last year [File: Ola Salem/Al Jazeera]

Hatred of journalists whipped up by populist and authoritarian leaders is degenerating into violence across the world, media watchdog Reporters Without Borders (RSF) has warned.

The number of countries where journalists can work safely is plummeting, RSF’s annual World Press Freedom Index revealed on Thursday.

Political leaders’ hostility towards the media “has incited increasingly frequent acts of violence that have fuelled an unprecedented level of fear and danger for journalists,” the report added.

“If the political debate slides towards a civil war-style atmosphere, where journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said Christophe Deloire, director general of RSF.

Press freedom

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