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Most of World's Press Not Free, Group Says

  • Kevin Foley

Washington, May 2 (RFE/RL) - Despite the growth of democratic governments, most of the people of the world live in countries where the press is not free, a new study by an American human rights organization says.

The list of countries where the press is either not free or only partly free includes several former Soviet republics which claim to be formal democracies, says the report by Freedom House, a private, non-profit organization based in New York.

Tajikistan and Turkmenistan were among a group of 20 countries rated "worst of the worst," by the study. That list also included Serbia. "These regimes are characterized by the total or near complete absence of press freedom," the study said.

It issued its report entitled "The Journalist as Pariah" in advance of Friday's World Press Freedom Day events.

"Increased pressure on the media by censorial regimes in the last year has led to more and more journalists censoring their own work for fear of reprisals," said Leonard Sussman, the coordinator of the study and Freedom House senior scholar.

"While this self-censorship resulted in fewer overt cases of government censorship, it points to a dangerous trend for press freedom around the world," he said.

The Freedom House survey of press freedom rated 187 countries. The countries were then placed in categories called "free," "partly free," or "not free," depending upon the conditions in each nation.

The study said that in the past year, there were 1,500 serious press freedom violations in the 187 countries surveyed. Freedom House said 58 countries were classified "not free" because of a high level of government control, "including frequent physical threats against journalists."

"Assaults on journalists, whether physical, psychological or economic, are also direct attacks on the entire population," Sussman said. "Everyone except the elite is thus denied news and information on which to make personal and public decisions."

In these societies, said Sussman, "the people are treated as juveniles; the journalists, as lawbreaking saboteurs."

The press is considered "partly free" in 65 countries. A "free" press exists in 64 countries, where "broadcast media and print journalists are nearly free from political pressure and other interference," the report said.

In central and eastern Europe, only the Czech Republic and Poland were rated as having a totally "free" press. Bulgaria, Hungary, Romania and Slovakia were given "partly free" press ratings.

In the Baltic states, Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania all were rated as having a "free" press.

In the former Yugoslavia, Slovenia alone won a "free" press rating. The press in Bosnia, Croatia and Macedonia was said to be "partly free," while Serbia's press was "not free."

In the former Soviet Union, no country had a totally free press, the report said. Armenia, Kyrgyzstan, Russia and Ukraine were rated "partly free." Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Kazakhstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan were all rated "not free."

Moldova had been rated as having a "partly free" press last year. Freedom House, however, said conditions worsened since the last survey was conducted.

"New laws last year set harsh penalties for 'defamation of the state and people,' and a variety of other reporting-related infractions," the report said. "Television stations were raided and equipment confiscated."

The survey measured four broad areas for each country. These were: whether laws influenced the content of the news media; the degree of political influence or control over content; economic influences on the media, and the degree of oppression ranging from killing journalists to censoring material.