Press Freedom Marching Backwards Around the Globe, Freedom House Survey Says

By: E&P Staff

For the eighth consecutive year, press freedom declined around the world in 2009, according to the annual study by Freedom House.

“Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence,” says declines in press freedoms outnumbered gains by two to one, with reverses in press liberty most striking in Sub-Saharan Africa, Latin America and the Middle East.

In 2009, Freedom House says, just one in six people on the plant lived in a place with a free press.

Of the 196 countries and territories Freedom House rated in 2009, 69 were classified as Free, 64 Partly Free, and 63 Not Free.

Many of the reverses took place in emerging democracies. The press in Namibia and South Africa, for instance, was recategorized from free to partly free.

“The steps backwards taken by a number of the new democracies are particularly disturbing,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study. “Journalists in many countries cannot do their job without fear of repercussions.”

Freedom House has been evaluating global press freedom since 1980, and sees a once-positive trend turning negative.

In 1980, it rated just 22% of the world’s countries as Free, and 53% as Not Free.

That Not Free rating fell to 47% by 1990 and 35% in 2000.

But since then there has been a gradual decline with the biggest setbacks taking place in Latin America and the former Soviet Union, Freedom House said.

The Internet has become a principal battlefield for press freedom, the organization said. “Governments in China, Russia, Venezuela, and other countries have been systematically encroaching on the comparatively free environment of the internet and new media,” it said. “Sophisticated techniques are being used to censor and block access to particular types of information, to flood the internet with antidemocratic, nationalistic views, and to provide broad surveillance of citizen activity.”

In the Americas, Freedom House said Mexico and Honduras — both with high levels of violence against journalists — now “hover on the cusp of the Not Free range.” Press freedom also declined during the year in Ecuador, Nicaragua, and Venezuela, it said.

Freedom House said the “worst of the worst” in 2009 — nations with with minimal or nonexistent press freedom — were Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Finland, Iceland, Norway and Sweden were tied at first place among nations with the most free press, Freedom House said. It ranked the United States in 24th place.

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