The report is partly based on a questionnaire which asks questions about pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, and infrastructure. The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also includes violations of the free flow of information on the Internet. Violence against journalists, netizens, and media assistants, including abuses attributable to the state, armed militias, clandestine organisations or pressure groups, are monitored by RSF staff during the year and are also part of the final score. A smaller score on the report corresponds to greater freedom of the press as reported by the organisation. The questionnaire is sent to Reporters Without Borders's partner organisations: 18 freedom of expression non-governmental organisations located in five continents, its 150 correspondents around the world and journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
Based on the data collected, a score and a position or rank, complementary indicators that together assess the state of media freedom are assigned to each country in the final report. Some countries are excluded from the report because of a lack of reliable or confirmed information. Because the questions and calculations upon which the scores are based have changed over the years, scores are only used to compare countries within a given year. To follow a country’s evolution from year to year its rank in the index is compared rather than its score.
Each report intends to reflect the situation during a specific period. The year of the report is the year the report was released and intends to reflect events in the prior year. No report was released in 2011. The 2011–2012 report, labelled 2012 in the table below, was published on 20 January, 2012, and intends to reflect events between 1 December, 2010, and 30 November, 2011. The 2013 World Press Freedom Index was published on 30 January, 2013, and intends to reflect events between 1 December, 2011, and 30 November, 2012.
Data for each year are presented as a country's rank, giving its position relative to other countries over its score. A smaller score on the report corresponds to greater freedom of the press as reported by the organisation. In 2012 the smallest scores could be negative.
Although the map above uses five colours the table below uses seven, and so some countries (e.g. Canada) will be coloured differently.