Freedom of the press declines in every region in 2008

Journalists around the globe should have little reason to think that freedom of the press is safe, according to a survey report released on Friday by Freedom House, a human rights advocacy group. Freedom House’s annual ‘freedom of the press report’ analyzed the state of the news media in 195 countries; advocates found that the freedom of the press declined in every region for the first time since the annual report was published.

The report, which can be found at the Freedom House website, recorded the seventh straight year in overall declines in freedom of the press worldwide. “Improvements in a small number of countries — including bright spots in parts of South Asia and Africa — were overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media by a wide range of actions, in both authoritarian states and countries with very open media environments.”

The report categorized countries in one of three groupings: free, partly free, and not free. 36% of countries were ‘free’ for the media, 31% were ‘partly free,’ and 33% were ‘not free,’ according to Freedom House. Myanmar, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan were the countries with the worst rating for freedom of the press.

“The journalism profession today is up against the ropes and fighting to stay alive, as pressures from governments, other powerful actors and the global economic crisis take an enormous toll,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. “The press is democracy’s first defense and its vulnerability has enormous implications for democracy if journalists are not able to carry out their traditional watchdog role.”

Other important changes to media freedom in the past year include the demotion of Israel to ‘partly free’ status, due to travel restrictions on reporters, attempts to influence media coverage, and “greater self-censorship and biased reporting, particularly during the outbreak of open war in late December.” Israel was once the only state in the Middle East and North Africa to have ‘free’ status; now there is none.

News media based in Hong Kong and countries within the former Soviet Union also suffered from authoritarian governmental control in the past year.

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