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Freedom House Survey Says Fewest People In A Decade Enjoying A Free Press

According to Freedom House, the Arab Spring helped countries like Egypt make some progress in ensuring more press freedom.
According to Freedom House, the Arab Spring helped countries like Egypt make some progress in ensuring more press freedom.
By Richard Solash
WASHINGTON -- A new report by U.S.-based pro-democracy group Freedom House says just one in six people around the world enjoys a free press -- the lowest percentage in more than a decade.

The 2012 edition of the annual "Freedom of the Press" survey evaluated the level of print, broadcast, and internet media freedom in 197 countries last year based on legal, political, and economic factors.

It found that the percentage of the world's people living in a free-press environment fell slightly, to 14.5 -- the lowest level since 1996, when the group began factoring population data into its findings.

But amid the distressing news, the report said one of the biggest developments last year was the "potentially far-reaching gains" that came with the Arab Spring.

Christopher Walker, vice president for strategy and analysis at Freedom House, maintained that "major steps forward" were made in Libya and Tunisia, and to some extent in Egypt.

"At the same time, there were a number of countries in the region with already very harsh media environments that cracked down fiercely," he said. "These included Iran, Syria, and Bahrain."

The report says the trend in those countries "reflected the regimes' alarmed and violent reactions" to the wave of popular uprisings.

Iran landed in its usual place in this year's report among the "worst of the worst." Walker says the country’s government "defines itself by the ferocity of its crackdowns, both on online and traditional media."

Ranking as low as Iran are countries including Belarus, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan, where Freedom House says "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."

Late last year in Uzbekistan, one of the last independent newspapers, "Zerkalo XXI," shut its doors, supposedly for financial reasons.

Walker believes pressure by the authorities was behind the closure.

"For newspaper-publishing, finding ways to publish this within Uzbekistan’s borders and then disseminate is practically impossible," he said. "So the fact that authorities are now moving to essentially cleanse the information landscape of the small remaining ways in which people in the country can get information also bodes very, very poorly for the country's development and speaks to the depths of the repression that ordinary Uzbeks experience."

As a region, Eurasia remained mired in severe press freedom problems, with Armenia, Azerbaijan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Russia, and Tajikistan also rated "not free." Ukraine barely hung onto a rating of "partly free," just one point away from being downgraded.

Russia is in 172nd place, tied with Zimbabwe. Walker noted "systematic [official] interference and obstruction in the key areas of Russia's media environment.”

The most positive signs in the non-Baltic former Soviet Union last year came in "partly free" ranked Georgia, with increased media choice and transparency.

Among other notable countries, China comes in at an abysmal 187th place and Afghanistan is in 164th. The United States ranked 22nd freest, while Finland, Norway, and Sweden were judged to have the world’s most press freedom.
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by: Jack from: US
May 01, 2012 13:40
is there a press freedom in US? "selective freedom", i.e. only what is approved by ruling mafia. Everyone knows forbidden topics
In Response

by: Nathan from: MA, USA
May 01, 2012 14:38
Better than any other country in the continent outside of Saint Lucia and Saint Vincent and much of Europe according to Freedom House. Americans are too cynical of their own freedoms.

by: Eugenio from: Vienna
May 01, 2012 18:34
Thanks God, we all stil can enjoy increadibly insightful, unbiased and informative RFE/RL "articles" written by renowned authors working for this respected organization. Such as the recent article on the fate of the "Ukrainian Barbie" :-))).

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 01, 2012 20:09
Dare one suggest that Freedom House does not know what it is talking about? I heard that some of their ‘experts’ are academics who have never lived or worked in the target countries. Do their raters even know the local languages? And what counts as journalism today? Did the survey take into consideration the massive explosion in social communication devices? Could this be just another Washington-beltway think-tank trying to justify its existence?
In Response

by: Marko from: USA
May 02, 2012 11:15
The rankings seem politicized. There is a wider spectrum of opinion in the Russian print media (and more diverse ownership) than in the US. In the US, six large corporations own everything , and there is a very narrow spectrum of opinion. For television, however, the situation is reversed. Russian TV, with a few minor exceptions, is directly or indirectly run by the government. It is in the US where there is far greater diversity of both content and ownership. Internet access is free in both countries, but there is a far higher percentage in the US with access. Sure, the US is somewhat freer-- but 22 vs. 172 ? Seems biased...
In Response

by: Ray F. from: Lawrence, KS
May 02, 2012 17:01
Nice comment, and totally agree. Even with all the ‘free-press’ in the US, most Americans remain largely ignorant of the wider world. I used to teach at a university here in Kansas, and was constantly surprised at not only the lack of intellectual depth, but the near indifference toward how others might view the world. If you can measure the strength of a culture by its popular TV programs, then even with all its freedoms, the US is in a deplorable condition. Somehow indicative that I was unable to download the Freedom House report. Welcome to America!
In Response

by: Jack from: US
May 03, 2012 02:27
"It is in the US where there is far greater diversity of both content and ownership". If it's the case you must be Mother Teresa self. In US all national TV networks are state-controlled and censored. Ever heard of FCC? What do you think that agency is doing if not controlling what American people can or cannot see or hear?

by: Sey from: World
May 03, 2012 04:48
There is no need of a free press when you have citizens who are aware of what's happening in their countries. The press and the media, they always represent something, they always take party with something. There is no such thing as an unbiased press, the very purpose of the press is to issue ideas and opinions about things, perspectives, and these perspective are written by humans, who by nature are not unbiased.

In the case of RFE/RL, RT, Al Jazeera, CNN, BBC, all media all press all networks, their reports are not unbiased, they express a perspective from a political or personal point of view. What we can do as people is to take these perspectives, take the good and the bad, the truth and the lie, and make our own perspectives.

If there is anything worse than curbing on freedom of speech is curbing on the ability to think. People does not think, they just consume, they consume other's perspectives and hold them to be true. As long as people don't think, it is easier for anyone to brainwash anyone.

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