Posted on Wednesday, 05.01.13
Report: World turmoil means fewer have free press
By PETER JAMES SPIELMANN
NEW YORK — A slump in global media freedom driven by Mali’s turmoil,
Greece’s decline and tightening media control in Latin America pushed
the percentage of the world’s population in countries with a completely
free press to its lowest level in 16 years, the democracy watchdog group
Freedom House said Wednesday in its annual survey.
Last year’s gains in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa
remained precarious, with Tunisia and Libya mainly holding onto their
Arab Spring gains while Egypt significantly backslid, Freedom House said.
“Two years after the uprisings in the Middle East, we continue to see
heightened efforts by authoritarian governments around the world to put
a stranglehold on open political dialogue, both online and offline,”
said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.
The Freedom House report came out two days before the observance of
U.N.-declared World Press Freedom Day on May 3.
Freedom House said that in Syria, the government continues to forcibly
restrict coverage of the conflict and misreport events via state-run
television stations, and journalists and bloggers operate in an
environment of considerable fear and insecurity.
“However, the loss of centralized control in large swathes of the
country has allowed a rise in citizen journalism, the opening of new
media outlets, and a decline in self-censorship,” the report found.
China and Russia, the group said, continue to maintain a tight grip on
traditional media – including detaining, jailing, or bringing legal
charges against critics, and closing down or otherwise censoring outlets
- even as they expanded their attempts to control content online.
Freedom House uses a variety of criteria to rank countries’ media as
Free, Partly Free or Not Free, and tracks trends over time.
Of the 197 countries and territories Freedom House assessed during 2012,
a total of 63 (32 percent) were rated Free, 70 (36 percent) were rated
Partly Free, and 64 (32 percent) were rated Not Free.
The analysis found that less than 14 percent of the world’s inhabitants
lived in countries with a Free press, while 43 percent had a Partly Free
press and 43 percent lived in Not Free environments. The population
figures are significantly affected by two countries – China, with a Not
Free status, and India, with a Partly Free status – that together
account for over a third of the world’s nearly 7 billion people.
The percentage of those enjoying Free media in 2012 declined by a half
point to the lowest level since 1996, when Freedom House began
incorporating population data into the findings of the survey.
Meanwhile, the share living in Not Free countries jumped by 2.5
percentage points, reflecting the move by populous states such as Egypt
and Thailand back into that category.
Freedom House noted changes in rankings due to economic pressures on the
media and overall financial disruption in many parts of the world.
“Political unrest and financial pressures brought on by the European
economic crisis took a toll on media freedom in Greece, which fell into
the Partly Free category,” Freedom House said.
It also noted “more modest deterioration” in Israel, now rated Partly
Free due to instances of political interference with content and
financial pressure on independent print outlets.
A strong relationship was found between a free press and fair elections.
“A level electoral playing field is impossible when the government, as
in authoritarian settings like Russia or Venezuela, is able to use its
control over broadcast media to skew coverage, and ultimately votes, in
its favor,” the report said.
In Latin America, Freedom House said, the number of Not Free countries
in the region swelled to its highest level since 1989, as Ecuador and
Paraguay fell out of the Partly Free camp.
For example, Paraguay fell as an indirect result of the “parliamentary
coup” that removed Fernando Lugo as president in June, Freedom House
said. The organization said the new administration of President Federico
Franco oversaw an immediate purge in the state media.
Ecuador was downgraded to the Not Free category as a law that placed
limitations on media coverage of electoral campaigns and candidates
severely restricted the press’s ability to report on politics ahead of
the February 2013 presidential election, and the level of investigative
reporting more generally also declined, Freedom House said.
The United States was rated as Free, but Freedom House noted it faces “a
threat to media diversity stemming from poor economic conditions for the
news industry, and a lack of protection-of-sources legislation at the
The worst of the worst-rated countries were Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial
Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.
Freedom House, founded in 1941, is a U.S.-based non-governmental
organization that conducts research and advocacy on democracy, political
freedom and human rights.
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