World press censored by 'stealth' pg. 18

By: Mark Fitzgerald Freedom House survey reveals subtle attacks, overall decline in press freedom

Press freedom around the world is on the decline, according to a survey of 186 nations by Freedom House.
The survey found press freedom was reduced to some degree in 53 nations last year - and improved in just 20.
"The degree of press freedom in the world actually declined in 1998 to a degree we have not seen for five years. It's worrying because it suggests things are not necessarily going in the right directions," says Leonard R. Sussman, who coordinated the survey.
Not only is press freedom declining, the methods used to restrict it are also changing, Freedom House says. "The muzzling of journalists was increasingly accomplished by more subtle, legalistic methods than through violence or outright repression," Sussman writes in the introduction to the survey, "News of the Century: Press Freedom 1999."
"While physical attacks, even murder and arrest of journalists have not ended, regimes increasingly use subtle legislation such as "insult" laws to restrict criticism. The trend suggests a form of censorship by stealth. The use of innocuous-sounding laws to restrict reporting and inspire self-censorship," Sussman adds.
Nearly 30% of the countries surveyed adopted new measures in 1998 to restrict or suppress reporting or political dissent, Freedom House found. "That is disturbing at a time when more democracies exist than ever," Sussman says.
This is the 21st annual survey of the state of press freedom conducted by Freedom House, a Washington, D.C., and New York City-based organization that monitors political and civil rights worldwide. Freedom House comes up with a country's "score" by looking at its press laws and how they are enforced, the "degree of economic influence on journalistic content," and actual cases of abuses against the press, ranging from harassment to violence and murder.
According to the organization, 68 countries, or 36% of the world's nations, have a press that is free; 52 countries, or 28%, partly free; and 66 countries, or 36%, not free.
Freedom House says 1.2 billion people live in nations with a free press; 2.4 billion where the press is partly free; and another 2.4 billion where it is not free. Freedom House says 1998 saw "major declines" in press freedom in two African countries, Namibia and Ghana, that conducted wide-spread crackdowns on the press last year; in Peru, where President Alberto Fujimori continued an anti-press drive begun in 1992; in Jordan, which adopted a harsh press law forbidding coverage of some 14 topics; and in Samao, where the government has been pressuring the remaining media it does not already own.
The departure last year of authoritarian leaders in two countries, Nigeria and Indonesia, accounted for "major improvements" in press freedom there, Freedom House says. Two Asian countries, Mongolia and Thailand, also showed major improvements as did two European countries, Slovakia and Bosnia-Herzegovina, both of which are still rated only "partly free."
The following are highlights of the survey grouped by region with country scored F (free), PF (partly free), or NF (not free):

The continent is home to 30 of the 66 countries worldwide that Freedom House ranks as not free. Four countries with slight improvements and one major improvement are far outnumbered by 18 slight declines and two major declines:
Algeria (PF): Islamist extremists and the government threaten and attack journalists. The government uses its monopoly on printing to pressure newspapers.
Cameroon (NF): A climate of fear prevails as the government makes wide use of "insult" laws to arrest journalists.
Ghana (NF): A still-vigorous private press is a frequent target of crackdowns and libel suits by the government, which legally circumvents the constitutional guarantee of media freedom.
Kenya (NF): Government-owned electronic media is widely disbelieved while a vibrant private newspaper press is economically harassed and reporters assaulted. One print reporter was stabbed to death.
Mali (F): Broadcast and print media, with 50 independent newspapers, is among the freest and most diverse in Africa.
Namibia (PF): Listed as free in the previous survey, throughout 1998, government restrictions and harassment of journalists increased the problem of self-censorship.
Nigeria (PF): Immediately after the death of the dictator Gen. Sani Abacha, successor Gen. Abdulsalam Abubakar relaxed controls on press and promised more freedoms. Before Abacha's death, two journalists were shot to death, 23 were arrested, and 24 physically attacked. Many restrictive laws remain, however, and the government has proposed creating an official media court and making libel a criminal offense.
South Africa (F): Restrictive media laws from the old apartheid system remain on the books but are not enforced. Accusations of racial bias, sometimes by black officials against the black press, are frequent. Government has promised a freedom of information law.
Zimbabwe (NF): The media work in a legal climate of official secrecy and inaccessibility that criminalizes the dissemination of information. The small independent press is critical of the government, but self-censorship is otherwise rampant.

Ironically, the continent's economic crisis has rejuvenated the news media in several of the hardest-hit countries:
Bangladesh (PF): One journalist is killed after his newspaper reports on corruption, gangs, and human-rights abuses. At least 20 journalists were assaulted on the job. More than 21 separate laws restrict the press.
Burma (NF): Among the world's most repressive regimes, with a rating of 97 on Freedom House's scale of 100 - only North Korea with 100 is worse. The State Peace and Development Council expanded its absolute control over the domestic media by expelling or detaining six foreign reporters during 1998.
China (NF): While several small papers write about corruption that the communist-owned media does not report, self-censorship is frequent. The government expelled several foreign reporters and withdrew visas of Hong Kong journalists who wanted to cover President Clinton's China trip.
India (PF): India has a robust newspaper press, but violence against journalists is a problem. One newspaper office was attacked by armed men. Nine journalists were attacked for their coverage, including one beaten in a police station.
Indonesia (PF): President B.J. Habibie quickly moved to free the press after years of restrictions under Suharto, who resigned. The frequent attacks under the Suharto regime have lessened, although self-censorship still is a problem in a violent time for the nation.
Pakistan (PF): Some 22 cases of serious press freedom violations recorded in 1998, including one murder and eight attacks on journalists.
Thailand (F): In the wake of the Asian financial crisis, Thailand has become convinced that greater openness is needed to prevent future economic chaos. The newspaper press in particular has been vigorous in covering the social implications of the crisis.

There were few dramatic developments in 1998 on the continent with the largest number of countries, 28, enjoying a free press:
Bosnia-Herzegovina (PF): A federal law criminalizes libel, and several journalists have been prosecuted. Private media is mostly partisan, and journalists have great difficulty getting news.
France (F): At least a dozen journalists were questioned and had their equipment seized in connection with demonstrations in support of "foreigners without proper papers."
Hungary (F): In this former communist country the press enjoys a wide variety of high-quality, uncensored national and local newspapers.
Ireland (F): A Freedom of Information law took effect last year, ending the government control permitted by an extensive Official Secrets Act. Harsh libel laws restrict press freedom.
Macedonia (PF): Most major media are state-controlled or subsidized, and political parties fund newspapers.
United Kingdom (F): The anti-press climate seen in Parliament in reaction to coverage of the violent death of Diana, Princess of Wales, eased noticeably in 1998.
Yugoslavia (NF): Legal restrictions and harassment against journalists intensified in the 1998 Kosovo conflict and the runup to the current NATO bombings. In Kosovo, journalists have been squeezed between the warring factions, but most attacks on the media came from the Serbian side.

A general decline in press freedom was led by intensifying crackdowns in Peru and Cuba and violence in Colombia:
Argentina (PF): The Senate contemplated more restrictive laws while working conditions for journalists declined as they were harassed, threatened, censored, fined, detained, and fired in attempts to stifle free expression.
Colombia (PF): 1998 was a violent year for Colombia's vibrant and aggressive press. Seven journalists were murdered, three kidnapped, and three others detained by paramilitaries.
Cuba (NF): The government relaxed its isolation slightly by permitting The Associated Press to open a bureau in 1998. It retains total control of domestic news media and engages in periodic crackdowns, such as detaining eight independent journalists to prevent them from covering a trial.
Guatemala (PF): Despite the 1996 peace accords between the government and leftist guerrillas, conditions for the press improved only slightly. Economic harassment from government and business is frequent, as is self-censorship.
Paraguay (PF): Independent journalists, particularly those investigating corruption or covering protests, are intimidated.

In this region where only one nation has a free press and only one has a partly free press, the only improvements were very marginal and came in the closed societies of Iran and Iraq:
Iran (NF): Press freedom is slowly increasing following the 1997 election of President Mohammad Khatami. Many more newspapers and magazines are publishing, but crackdowns driven by Muslim extremists are frequent and arbitrary.
Iraq (NF): For the first time since 1968, newspapers outside the ruling Ba'ath party are permitted to publish. All journalists operate under a Draconian law: Insulting the president or other officials is punishable by death.
Israel (F): Under a "voluntary" agreement last revised in 1996, government and military authorities can censor news from Israel or occupied territories on national security grounds. Arabic-language publications are censored more frequently than those in Hebrew.
Palestinian Authority (NF): The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) implies that the news media should be an arm of the PNA. Censorship, intimidation, and harassment of journalists is unpredictable and arbitrary, leading to significant self-censorship.

Canada (F): Despite a tradition of broad press freedom, Canada permitted surveillance of a broadcaster investigating police corruption, and two newspaper reporters were subjected to police wiretaps.
United States (F): Like Canada, the United States was said to have had "slight declines" in press freedom during 1998. "Loss of credibility was a serious factor," Freedom House says.
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