Age of nominal democracies drives journalists to organize protection p.18

By: Leonard R. Sussman The global press in 1998 was only partly free ? decreasingly free, by a slight margin ? in the 21st annual Freedom House survey of the news media. Yet there was a double irony: with more procedural democracies in place than ever, fearful rulers increasingly used legalisms to control the press, and journalists themselves organized for self-protection as never before.
Communists in the Russian parliament are calling for greater censorship, a growing theme in the former Soviet states, but President Boris Yeltsin vowed on Dec. 26, 1998, to protect the press and fight censorship. "We will use all our strength to defend freedom of the press," said the ailing Yeltsin, "I promise you this as president and as guarantor of the constitution."
The Russian print and broadcast press are increasingly subject to control by Russia's plutocrats as well as by political forces. But a new vigorous press-defense group monitors the declining freedom of the Russian news media and seeks to exert influence on the Russian government to protect limited freedoms and President Yeltsin's commitment to democratic principles. His commitment to protect Russia's embattled press is a byproduct of journalists' vigorous efforts to combat censorship.
The Glasnost Defense Foun-dation of Russia is affiliated with the worldwide electronic press-freedom advocate, International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), headquartered in Toronto. IFEX, with 34 members covering all continents, carries 24-hour reports of murders and physical attacks on journalists, press banning, and diverse harassment of the news media worldwide.
Fifteen years ago, the press itself paid little organized attention to its own survival. Now there are active press-freedom monitoring organizations in Paris, London, Brussels, Zurich, Washington, Nam-ibia, Lima, Fiji, Accra, Lagos, Hong Kong, Buenos Aires, Amsterdam, Oslo, Islamabad, Dacca, and New York as well as Toronto. Individually or in consort, they protest speedily when a journalist is arrested or otherwise molested on the job. Ironically, the opening of political systems provides new subtle forms of governmental pressure and the facilities for journalists to combat it.
Of 186 countries examined in the 1998 survey, 68 have free print and broadcast media. They are 37% of the nations. Fifty-two countries (28%) have a partly free press, and 66 (35%) have news media that are not free. The year before, 67 countries were in the free-press category, 54 countries in partly free category, and 65 in the not-free category.
Only 1.23 billion people live in countries with a free press. That is 20% of the world's population, while 2.41 billion (40%) have access to a partly free press, and more of the world's people, 2.42 billion (40%), live in nations with a press that is not free.
In 1998, the average press-freedom level of 186 countries dropped significantly to a rating of 49.04 on the Freedom House scale, in which 31 to 60 is within the partly free spectrum. The previous year, the average was 46.29.
In the Freedom House survey, countries are scored from 1 to 100; the lower the number, the freer the press. A combined rating of all factors totaling from 1 to 30 places a country in the free category, 31 to 60 in the partly free, 61 to 100 in the not free category.
That score is determined by rating each country's laws and administration, the degree of political and economic influence on the content of journalism, and actual cases of press-freedom violations. These range from harassment of journalists and the media to physical attacks and murder. Last year, 38 journalists were killed on duty, another 284 were physically attacked, 329 arrested, and 749 journalists and their institutions harassed, banned, or otherwise threatened.
Eleven countries moved into new categories last year. Improving their standing were Mongolia, Slovakia, and Thailand which went from partly free to a free press; and Bosnia-Herzegovina, Indonesia, and Nigeria moved from not free to partly free. Declines in press freedom ratings were noted in Namibia and Western Samoa which went from free to partly free, and Ghana, Jordan, and Peru whose press moved from partly free to not free.
In 73 other countries, the survey recorded marginal movement within categories. More than twice the number declined than improved. Twenty nations showed slight improvement in press freedom while it declined slightly in 53 nations. Another 102 countries were unchanged.
The most notable improvement came last year in Nigeria which years earlier had a vigorous, diversified press. In 1993, however, Nigeria became one of the most censorious countries in the world. By mid-July last year, the deaths of both an elected president and his captor-successor suddenly resulted in the lifting of many press restrictions, and the promise of elections in 1999. The specter of two journalists shot to death in 1998, 23 journalists arrested, and 24 others physically attacked was not soon forgotten, even as the news media operated in a new partly free environment. There was still the fear that some restrictions might be restored before the coming election.
With the fall of the Suharto government last year, Indonesian journalists also enjoyed a marked lifting of barriers to press freedom. The new prime minister, B. J. Habibie, rapidly announced his support for a free press and quickly permitted the rebirth of Tempo, the popular newsweekly banned four years earlier. In the still unsettled political and economic condition of the country and with persistent ethnic cleavages, journalists still operate with some caution and self-censorship.
Peru's journalism declined from partly free to not free. The nation's newspapers and magazines felt increasing pressure from President Fujimari, presumably jockeying for a third term not yet allowed under the constitution. Since 1992, many print and broadcast journalists have been pressured into self-censorship. Others have been intimidated by libel suits, detentions, house arrest, and the stripping of citizenship from a television station owner, thus vacating his corporate holding. Last year, two journalists were killed, 12 received death threats, 10 were beaten or otherwise attacked, 5 were arrested, and others charged.
Ghana barely slipped into the not free category from partly free. The country has alternated between democratic and oppressive governments since it became the first nation in Africa to gain independence after World War II. Though the 1992 constitution guarantees media freedom, the government finds ways legally to circumvent press freedom.
The privately owned press was frequently the victim last year of government crackdowns based on protection of "the reputation, rights, and freedoms of other persons." The media can be silenced in the name of "national security, public order, and public morality." This procedure is increasingly popular in many other countries in Latin America as well as Africa, Asia, and Eastern Europe. Ghanian radio stations, whose broadcast frequencies are allocated by a government board, carry few critical reports of the regime.
Namibia, listed in 1997 as "free" but at the very cusp of "partly free," went over the line in 1998 to partly free. Throughout the year, official crackdowns and harassment of journalists stimulated some self-censorship. The state owns and operates the radio and television systems. They give prominent coverage to officials but generally report those critical of the government. Yet the regime and ruling party made repeated attempts to restrict reporting of their activities last year. Television reporters were twice assaulted, one TV program was dumped for "libelous and malicious" stories, a journalist was arrested for not revealing sources, and two defamation suits were brought by government ministers. Other journalists were harassed.
The Middle East has the smallest percentage of free news media. Only one country in the region (Israel but not the Israel-dominated territories) has a free press. That is 7% among 16 countries. Kuwait has a partly free press. In the remaining 14 countries the press is not free.
Africa has 6 free-press nations (12%), 17 that are partly free (32%), and 29 that are not free (56%). Asia has 8 free-press countries (22%), 9 (25%) partly free, and 19 (53%) not free.
Western and Eastern European journalists enjoy a free press in 26 countries (74%), while partly free journalism exists in 6 countries (17%), and a not-free press in 3 nations (9%).
In Latin America and the Caribbean, 16 countries (49%) provide a free press, 14 (42%) partly free, and 3 (9%) not free.
Oceania has 8 countries (67%) with free news media, 4 (33%) partly free, and none not free.
Both North American countries, Canada and the United States, have a free press but were rated slightly lower in 1998. Canada dipped several points despite its tradition of broad press freedom. It permitted surveillance of a broadcast reporter investigating police corruption. Two newspaper reporters were kidnapped by the police. One newspaper in Quebec was harassed over the language issue. A CBC reporter had his home broken into after reporting on the Hell's Angels. And one reporter, critical of the Sikhs, was killed.
The U.S. rating dropped one point. Though the Supreme Court declared unconstitutional the 1996 law banning pornography on the Internet, Congress continued to draft bills to control Internet content. Sensational and saturation coverage of the presidential scandals in 1998 also reduced the credibility of journalists and their institutions, a negative sign in a democratic society.

?(Sussman is a senior scholar of Freedom House, who coordinates the press-freedom survey. Kristen Guida and Tania Kramer provided research assistance for this article which was written exclusively for Editor & Publisher.) [Caption]
?(Leonard R. Sussman) [Photo]
?(Editor& Publisher Web Site: http://www.mediainfo. com) [Caption]
?(copyright: Editor & Publisher January 30, 1999) [Caption]


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