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Press Freedom Declining around the World: Study

May 4, 2009

AFP
May 3, 2009

WASHINGTON - Press freedom declined around the
world last year, deteriorating for the first time
in every region, according to a study released by Freedom House.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ),
meanwhile, unveiled its list of "10 worst
countries to be a blogger," naming Myanmar, Iran,
Syria, Cuba, Saudi Arabia, Vietnam, Tunisia,
China, Turkmenistan and Egypt to its "dishonor roll."

Out of the 195 countries and territories covered
in the Freedom House study, 70, or 36 percent,
were rated "free," 61 (31 percent), were rated
"partly free" and 64 (33 percent) were rated "not free."

Freedom House, which is funded by the US
government and private groups and has been
conducting an annual study of press freedom since
1980, said that 72 countries were rated free the previous year.

It said that while press freedom had declined in
2008 for the seventh year in a row, last year
marked the first time it had deteriorated in every region.

"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," executive director Jennifer Windsor said.

Freedom House said gains in South Asia and Africa
were "overshadowed by a campaign of intimidation
targeting independent media, particularly in the
former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa."

It said Israel, Italy and Hong Kong slipped from
free to partly free status in 2008.

Among the worst-rated states were Belarus, China,
Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Laos,
Libya, Myanmar, North Korea, the Palestinian
territories, Rwanda and Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan and Zimbabwe.

In Asia, Cambodia fell to not free status because
of increased violence against journalists, while
Hong Kong slipped to partly free as Beijing
exerted growing influence over the media.

China's media environment remained "bleak" while
media in Taiwan faced assault and growing government pressure.

"China should have had a better record in 2008
and upheld its promise to ensure press freedom
during the Olympics, but instead it chose to
remain the world's largest repressor of media
freedom," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study.

South Asia saw improvement in Bangladesh, the
Maldives and Pakistan while Sri Lanka and Afghanistan suffered setbacks.

Myanmar also got poor marks from the CPJ.

"With a military government that severely
restricts Internet access and imprisons people
for years for posting critical material, Burma is
the worst place in the world to be a blogger," it said.

Freedom House said the biggest drop in press
freedom occurred in Central and Eastern Europe
with journalists murdered in Bulgaria and
Croatia, assaulted in Bosnia and denied judicial protection in Russia.

The Middle East and North Africa continued to
have the lowest level of press freedom.

Restrictions on journalists and official attempts
to influence coverage during the Gaza conflict
led to Israel's downgrading to partly free status.

Freedom House said press freedom fell in Senegal,
Madagascar, Chad, South Africa, Tanzania and
others in sub-Saharan Africa while Comoros,
Sierra Leone, Angola and Liberia showed improvement.

It said Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua
registered major declines while Guyana regained
its free rating and Haiti and Uruguay saw
significant improvement. Mexico?s score dropped because of increased violence.

Western Europe boasted the highest level of press
freedom although Italy slipped into the partly
free category with free speech limited by courts
and libel laws and concerns over the concentration of media ownership.

The reports from Freedom House, which was created
in 1941 by Eleanor Roosevelt, wife of then US
president Franklin Roosevelt, among others, and
CPJ were released to coincide with World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.
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