By: Tony Case Latest Freedom House report says significant press violations can be found in 113 of 186 nations worldwide sp.
A FREE PRESS flourishes in 37% of the world's countries, but significant press violations can be found in 113 of 186 nations, according to a survey conducted by the human rights organization Freedom House, New York, and sponsored by the Freedom Forum, the Arlington, Va.-based First Amendment advocacy group. "Press freedom peaked with the post-Communist liberalizations of 1989, but there have been no significant gains for press freedom since," Freedom House executive director Adrian Karatnycky said in releasing findings of the survey. A report titled "Press Freedom Worldwide 1994," issued on United Nations International Press Freedom Day May 3, assesses the degree to which the system of mass communication in each country permits the free flow of information to and from the public. "Although the press in the freest countries is the watchdog over government, many governments, even some democracies, are seeking to be watchdogs over the news media," said Leonard Sussman, Freedom House senior scholar and coordinator of the study. The survey found a free press ? meaning free of political pressure and other interference ? in 68 of 186 countries examined. It discovered what was considered a partly free press in 64 nations and a press not free in 54 countries. Violations against the media were reported in 113 nations, including many regarded as having a free press. The press in Belgium, New Zealand, Australia, Norway and Denmark were rated the most free, respectively. The media in these nations were cited for their "vibrancy, diversity and lack of government encumbrance." Meanwhile, Iraq, Cuba, Tajikistan, North Korea and Burma were listed as the countries with the most restricted press, respectively. Iraq President "Saddam Hussein's reign of terror and total media control make Iraq the least free press nation in the world," the report said. The U.S. media ranked sixth freest in the survey. The press here easily maintained its free rating, the report said, "but lost points because of an increasing monopolization of media and the skyrocketing costs of publishing and broadcasting encourage advertising and rating influences on editorial content." The survey found what were considered to be significant press violations in the former Soviet Union. The media in six of the newly independent republics, including Azerbaijan, were listed as not free. The government there, which came to power last June, "is more harsh on journalists than its predecessor, which beat reporters whose stories it did not approve," the report said. In 11 of the republics, including Russia and Ukraine, the press was considered partly free. In Russia, a failed coup in October provoked President Boris Yeltsin to order temporary restrictions as well as certain limitations on access during the fall election campaign, the report noted. But Russian journalists continued to display "extraordinary independence." State-controlled media in Serbia-Montenegro overwhelmed several small-circulation papers, and the Milosevic government repeatedly has sought to cut off foreign aid to independent papers, the report said. Sussman observed that in many African nations, "the news media are simply extensions of state power." In Tanzania, whose press was classified as partly free, the government created a powerful broadcasting commission composed of leaders of the ruling political party. And in Egypt, journalists who criticize the government often are accused of supporting Islamicists, one reason that the country's press was classified as not free. The partly free press of South Africa was called one of the least restricted on the continent. TV there is jointly operated under a new agreement between political parties, and complaints about a lack of fairness now are originating with the National Party of former President F.W. de Klerk. Government control of the press in Singapore and Malaysia, whose media were considered partly free, often comes in the form of restrictions in the name of preserving racial and ethnic harmony, according to the report, which said, "While this control is more subtle, it leads to self-censorship and has the effect of perpetuating the ruling party's power." In China, whose press was considered not free, state control is more overt and total, but courageous journalists continue to write "between the lines, telling part of an event but not enough for the alert reader to discern fuller meaning," the report said. In the Middle East, the Iranian media's lack of diversity, resulting from extreme Islamic codes, earns that nation's press a not free rating. Saudi Arabia's outlawing satellite dishes contributed to its being given the same classification. The Israeli press barely maintained a free rating because of limited military censorship, the report said. In Mexico, where the press was classified as partly free, the leading TV network, Televisa, was criticized in March for biased coverage of the Chiapas Indian revolt. In Argentina, where the press was considered free, approximately 200 restrictions were reported against journalists before elections there last year. The study reported that most governments consider a free press a threat since information empowers the individual. "A free press is the underpinning for a broad range of political rights and civil liberties," said Freedom House chairman and Freedom Forum trustee Bette Bao Lord. "When journalists are subject to pressure and violence from governments, political factions, drug lords and others, a critical pillar of the free society is imperiled." The report said that last year, 76 journalists in 27 countries were killed. Seven members of the press died in Russia during the October coup. Nine died in the warfare in Bosnia, whose press received a rating of not free. Religious terrorists were blamed for the deaths of eight newspeople in Algeria. Still, journalists working for the daily Oslobodjenje continue to publish amid bombardments there. Four journalists and two support staffers were killed in Turkey, where the government continues to crack down on pro-Kurdish newspapers, the report said. Five journalists were killed while covering the return of anarchy and warlordism in Somalia, and drug traffickers murdered five journalists in Colombia, where the press was considered partly free. In South Africa, several newspeople were killed prior to the recent multiracial election there.