- 30 Apr 2010 6:00 AM
The study, Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence, reported that press freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year, producing a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a Free press. The freedom of the press suffered a modest decline in Hungary last year, although the country remained classified as "free" but its score moved from last year's 21 to 23 "due to problems involving the allocation and registration of radio frequencies," the report said.
"Only 17% of the world's citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press. In the rest of the world, governments as well as non-state actors control the viewpoints that reach citizens and brutally repress independent voices who aim to promote accountability, good governance, and economic development," the report said.
Freedom of the Press index
The Freedom of the Press index an annual survey of media independence in 195 countries and territories, is at the core of Freedom Houses press freedom project.
The annual index contains the most comprehensive data set available on global media freedom and is a key resource for scholars, policymakers, and international institutions. The index assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom in every country in the world, analyzing the events of each calendar year. It provides numerical rankings and rates each countrys media as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.
Among the report’s key findings:
Significant declines outnumbered gains by a 2-to-1 margin. Notable regional declines were registered in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, as well as the Middle East.
Declines in important emerging democracies demonstrate the fragility of press freedom in such environments. Namibia and South Africa, two of the new democracies, dropped from Free to Partly Free. Worrying declines were also registered in Mexico, the Philippines, and Senegal.
The only region to show overall improvement was Asia-Pacific, spurred by notable gains in South Asia that included status changes in Bangladesh and Bhutan from Not Free to Partly Free and a numerical score jump for the Maldives.
Governments in China, Russia, Venezuela, and other countries have been systematically encroaching on the comparatively free environment of the internet and new media. 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.
Journalists are increasingly the victims of assault and murder, a trend fueled by impunity for past crimes.
"Freedom of expression is fundamental to all other freedoms. Rule of law, fair elections, minority rights, freedom of association, and accountable government all depend on an independent press which can fulfill its watchdog function," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House.
"This is why these findings are so utterly disturbing. When the Iranian Revolutionary Guards torture a journalist, or Communist authorities in China imprison a blogger, or criminal elements in Russia assassinate yet another investigative reporter, it sends a clear message that every person fighting for basic rights is vulnerable to a similar fate."
In the 30 years since Freedom House began measuring global media freedom, the landscape has changed considerably:
In 1980, media freedom was concentrated in Western Europe; only 22 percent of the world’s countries enjoyed a rating of Free, while 53 percent were Not Free.
By 1990, the share of Not Free countries had declined to 47 percent; by 2000, it was just 35 percent.
Over the past decade, the positive momentum that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall has stalled, and in some cases has been reversed. For the past eight years, there have been gradual declines on a global scale, with the most pronounced setbacks taking place in Latin America and the former Soviet Union.
"Unfortunately, the positive changes seen in earlier decades have not been consolidated," noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study.
"While the media landscape around the world has opened considerably—due in part to the impact of privately owned and satellite broadcast media and the internet—both governments and nonstate actors have found new ways to restrict the independence of the media and the free flow of information."
"The steps backwards taken by a number of the new democracies are particularly disturbing," said Karlekar, citing the declines in Namibia, the Philippines, Senegal, and South Africa as examples. "Journalists in many countries cannot do their job without fear of repercussions."
Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union
In 2009, the region overall underwent a modest decline, with most countries showing little or no change. In the non-Baltic former Soviet Union, where media freedoms are severely restricted, Russia remained among the world’s more repressive and most dangerous media environments. Kyrgyzstan’s score fell, continuing a multiyear negative trend. Ukraine, Armenia, and Moldova registered slight improvements.
Apart from the former Soviet Union, modest declines were seen in Latvia and Lithuania, with even smaller negative movements in Estonia, Hungary, and Croatia.
The region registered no status changes or significant numerical shifts in 2009, reflecting a largely steady level of media freedom in most countries. The United Kingdom remains a concern due to its expansive libel laws, while heavy media concentration and official interference in state-owned outlets continues to hold Italy at Partly Free.
Worst of the Worst
The world’s 10 worst-rated countries are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.
The 2010 index, which provides analytical reports and numerical ratings for 196 countries and territories, continues a process conducted since 1980 by Freedom House. The findings are widely used by governments, international organizations, academics, and the news media in many countries.
Countries are given a total score from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) on the basis of a set of 23 methodology questions divided into three subcategories. Assigning numerical points allows for comparative analysis among the countries surveyed and facilitates an examination of trends over time. The degree to which each country permits the free flow of news and information determines the classification of its media as "Free", "Partly Free", or "Not Free".
Countries scoring 0 to 30 are regarded as having "Free" media; 31 to 60, "Partly Free" media; and 61 to 100, "Not Free" media. "
Source: Portfolio Online Financial Journal