Freedom of the Press 2010

Since its inception in the dark days of 1941, when Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie served as its first honorary co-chairpersons, Freedom House has been an enormously respected independent watchdog organization supporting the expansion of freedom around the world.

As they aver, “Freedom House supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights. Since its founding . . . Freedom House has been a vigorous proponent of democratic values and a steadfast opponent of dictatorships of the far left and the far right.”

Freedom House has now released its most recent study of worldwide press freedom, Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence. The news is dismal: “after two decades of progress, press freedom is now in decline in almost every part of the world. Only 17 percent of the world’’ 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.”

A few of the basic points covered in this comprehensive survey include:

“Global press freedom declined in 2009, with setbacks registered in nearly every region of the world. This marked the eighth straight year of overall deterioration, and produced a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a Free press. These largely negative developments constitute the principal findings of Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence, the latest edition of an annual index published by Freedom House since 1980. The year was notable for intensified efforts by authoritarian regimes to place restrictions on all conduits for news and information. The trend included repression of print and broadcast journalism, but a growing focus on the internet and other new media was also apparent. While there were some positive developments, particularly in South Asia, significant declines were recorded in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Countries with largest downgrades included South Africa, Iran, Mexico, the Philippines, Senegal, and Guinea.”

. . .

“In the 30 years since Freedom of the Press began publishing, the overarching trend has consisted, until recently, of gradual and occasionally dramatic improvement in the level of media freedom worldwide. In 1980 the survey showed a grim global landscape in which 38 (25 percent) of 154 countries had fully Free media, while 34 (22 percent) had Partly Free media and 82 (53 percent) had Not Free media. Western Europe was the only region where a Free press prevailed. While there were positive developments in the Americas, the majority of countries in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa were rated Not Free, almost all countries in the Middle East and North Africa were Not Free, and the Soviet sphere, including the countries of Central and Eastern Europe, was entirely Not Free.
By 1990, these figures had shown a modest improvement. Of 159 countries, 56 (35 percent) had Free media, 29 (18 percent) had Partly Free media, and 74 (47 percent) had Not Free media. These gains were largely driven by openings in Latin America, where a number of countries shifted from Partly Free to Free status, and by smaller improvements in Asia and Central and Eastern Europe.

“By 2000, the survey reflected a genuine blossoming of press freedom. Of 186 countries and territories, 69 (37 percent) were rated Free; 51 (27 percent) were rated Partly Free; and 66 (35 percent) were rated Not Free. A number of countries where media repression was the order of the day registered significant progress in facilitating the free flow of information. There had been a dramatic opening in Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet Union in the early 1990s, and significant improvements in sub-Saharan Africa had propelled a number of countries from the Not Free to the Partly Free range. Meanwhile, smaller gains in Asia led to several shifts from Partly Free to Free.

“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. Globally and within several regions, there appears to be a shift toward the middle, including a worrying trend in which societies that previously boasted robust press freedom are suffering declines significant enough to place them in the Partly Free category.”

. . .

“The world’s 10 worst-rated countries are Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. In these states, which are scattered around the globe, 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.”

For more detailed information, see the Freedom House press release Restrictions on Press Freedom Intensifying and the 11-page overview essay Press Freedom in 2009: Broad Setbacks to Global Media Freedom.

Published in: on May 3, 2010 at 4:06 pm  Leave a Comment  

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