9 May 2012

No retreat on press freedom globally for first time in eight years, says Freedom House

Freedom House’s 2012 press freedom map: green=free, yellow=partly free, purple=not free
Freedom House’s 2012 press freedom map: green=free, yellow=partly free, purple=not free
With authoritarian regimes crumbling in the Middle East and North Africa, freedom of the press made precarious gains in 2011, and for the first time in eight years showed no overall decline, says Freedom House in its annual global survey.

The Arab Spring unleashed the media in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya, which all rose from "not free" to "partly free", according to the report.

"The newly opened media environments in countries like Tunisia and Libya, while still tenuous and far from perfect, are critical for the future of democratic development in the region and must be nurtured and protected," Freedom House's president David J. Kramer said.

China and authoritarian nations in Africa and the Middle East censored news of the Arab Spring, Freedom House said. In Uganda, Angola and Djibouti, "the authorities cracked down, sometimes violently, on journalists covering the demonstrations."

As usual, Western democracies ranked high in the report. But Freedom House marked down the ranking of the United States slightly for heavy-handed police crackdowns on journalists covering various Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011.

The United Kingdom also was marked down slightly for riot-related press restrictions, and legal "super-injunctions" that bar the media from reporting even the existence of an injunction against coverage of celebrities and wealthy individuals.

Italy, a rare example of a Western Europe nation not rated as having a free press, rose slightly in Freedom House's rankings as media magnate Silvio Berlusconi resigned as Prime Minister. But it is still considered only "partly free".

Although established democracies historically do quite well in Freedom House's survey, two had their status downgraded from "free" to "partly free".

"Heightened harassment of journalists trying to cover protest movements contributed to a decline in Chile's status," Freedom House said.

"And following a sharp numerical slide in 2010, Hungary was downgraded to 'partly free' due to concerted efforts by the conservative government of Prime Minister Viktor Orban to seize control over the legal and regulatory framework for media,'" the report said.

Of 197 countries surveyed on a wide variety of freedom of press issues, Freedom House found 66 nations rated "free," 72 "partly free" and 59 "not free".

Largely because of China, "which boasts the world's most sophisticated system of media repression," Freedom House found that 40.5 percent of the world's population live in a "not free" media environment, while 45 percent had a "partly free" press and just 14.5 percent live in counties with a "free press".

Freedom House listed eight nations as the "worst of the worst" for press freedom: Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
Read Freedom of the Press 2012 here.

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