Friday, May 1, 2009

Press freedom declining around the world: study

Press freedom declined around the world last year, deteriorating for the first time in every region, according to a study released by Freedom House.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), meanwhile, unveiled its list of "10 worst countries to be a blogger," naming Myanmar, Iran, Syria, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia, China, Turkmenistan and Egypt to its "dishonor roll."

Out of the 195 countries and territories covered in the Freedom House study, 70, or 36 percent, were rated "free," 61 (31 percent), were rated "partly free" and 64 (33 percent) were rated "not free."

Freedom House, which is funded by the US government and private groups and has been conducting an annual study of press freedom since 1980, said that 72 countries were rated free the previous year.

It said that while press freedom had declined in 2008 for the seventh year in a row, last year marked the first time it had deteriorated in every region.

"The journalism profession today is up against the ropes and fighting to stay alive, as pressures from governments, other powerful actors and the global economic crisis take an enormous toll," executive director Jennifer Windsor said.

Freedom House said gains in South Asia and Africa were "overshadowed by a campaign of intimidation targeting independent media, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa."

It said Israel, Italy and Hong Kong slipped from free to partly free status in 2008.

Among the worst-rated states were Belarus, China, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Laos, Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, the Palestinian territories, Rwanda and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

In Asia, Cambodia fell to not free status because of increased violence against journalists, while Hong Kong slipped to partly free as Beijing exerted growing influence over the media.

China's media environment remained "bleak" while media in Taiwan faced assault and growing government pressure.

"China should have had a better record in 2008 and upheld its promise to ensure press freedom during the Olympics, but instead it chose to remain the world's largest repressor of media freedom," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study.

South Asia saw improvement in Bangladesh, the Maldives and Pakistan while Sri Lanka and Afghanistan suffered setbacks.

Myanmar also got poor marks from the CPJ.

"With a military government that severely restricts Internet access and imprisons people for years for posting critical material, Burma is the worst place in the world to be a blogger," it said.

Freedom House said the biggest drop in press freedom occurred in Central and Eastern Europe with journalists murdered in Bulgaria and Croatia, assaulted in Bosnia and denied judicial protection in Russia.

The Middle East and North Africa continued to have the lowest level of press freedom.

Restrictions on journalists and official attempts to influence coverage during the Gaza conflict led to Israel's downgrading to partly free status.

Freedom House said press freedom fell in Senegal, Madagascar, Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and others in sub-Saharan Africa while Comoros, Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia showed improvement.

It said Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua registered major declines while Guyana regained its free rating and Haiti and Uruguay saw significant improvement. Mexico?s score dropped because of increased violence.

Western Europe boasted the highest level of press freedom although Italy slipped into the partly free category with free speech limited by courts and libel laws and concerns over the concentration of media ownership.

The reports from Freedom House, which was created in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then US president Franklin Roosevelt, among others, and CPJ were released to coincide with World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.


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