Italy's ranking in the organization's Press Freedom Index leapt 25 places from last year, but remained just outside the top 50 at 52nd place worldwide.
The rise bucked a global trend of worsening press freedom, with almost two thirds of countries seeing a drop in their score, as the NGO warned: "Media freedom is under threat now more than ever."
But Italy remained one of the lowest-ranked countries in Western Europe, with press freedom a "noticeable problem", according to the rankings.
Reporters Without Borders noted that Italy "continues to be one of the European countries where the most journalists are threatened by organized crime".
Six Italian journalists are under 24-hour police protection due to death threats from organized crime groups, most famously Roberto Saviano, whose book Gomorrah examined the grip of the Camorra mafia group on Naples.
Reporters working in the south of the country or its capital are particularly exposed to pressure from mafia and other criminal groups, Reporters Without Borders said.
But threats to Italian press freedom also come from politicians, with the NGO saying journalists "increasingly opt to censor themselves" due to pressure from politicians. A recent law made defaming politicians, judges, or civil servants punishable by sentences of six to nine years in prison.
The writers of the report singled out Beppe Grillo, the leader of the Five Star Movement, for publicly 'outing' journalists he dislikes.
Grillo has eschewed Italy's mainstream media, preferring to post on his blog than answer questions from journalists, but the report linked his criticism of specific journalists to an "alarming" rise in violence against journalists.
However, Italy's overall score in the rankings did improve, with its significant rise partly due to the acquittal of several journalists in defamation cases, including two who were tried in the Vatileaks 2 case.
The World Press Freedom Index is published annually, ranking 180 countries with scores calculated by a questionnaire of international experts, supported by a qualitative analysis.
Norway took the top spot in the most recent rankings, followed by Nordic neighbour Sweden, while Eritrea (ranked 179th) lost its last place ranking to North Korea for the first time in a decade.
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Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP