Freedom House, a democracy watchdog based in New York which assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and internet freedom worldwide, presented its annual Freedom of the Press 2008: A Global Survey of Media Independence at the Newseum in Washington.
Research Director Arch Puddington told VOANews.com: “If you look at the record for the last two years, it represents the first time in the past 15 years that freedom has actually declined over a two-year period.”
The survey labeled 72 countries as “free”, 59 countries as “partly free”, and 64 countries as “not free” with setbacks in press freedom outnumbering advances two to one.
The worst-rated countries in the world are Burma, Myanmar, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan with South Asia, the former Soviet Union, the Middle East, North Africa and sub-Saharan Africa noted for their decline in freedom.
Puddington described what he called a ‘pushback’ against democracy.
“This is very often something you see with big, energy rich countries like Russia, Kazakhstan, Azerbaijan, Venezuela and China, where you have got regimes that are worried about popular movements for democracy.
“They are taking every sort of measure, ranging from imprisoning dissidents to using the tax police and regulations to smother the work of NGO’s,” he said.
The report cited the former Soviet Union as a region with a sharp decline in freedom, with poor election conditions, the toughening of anti-extremism laws and the imposition of a state of emergency in Georgia coupled with police violence against demonstrators.
The director of studies at Freedom House, Christopher Walker said: “As a unit, the former Soviet Union is on of the most freedom-deprived regions of all the regions we examined. Among the features that we have found is really a hardening core of authoritarian states.”
The report said “reporters suffer from a high level of personal insecurity, and impunity for past murders of physical attacks against journalists is the norm.”
Israel once the only country in the Middle East and North Africa to be rated ‘free’ dropped to ‘partly free’ because of developments in Gaza reports CNN. Hong Kong also fell from ‘free’ to ‘partly free’.
The report said; “Of particular concern were the appointment of 10 owners of Hong Kong media outlets to a mainland Chinese political advisory body, increased restrictions on film releases in the period surrounding the Olympics, and reports that critics of Beijing encountered growing difficulty in gaining access to Hong Kong media platforms.”
There were some improvements mainly thanks to the bravery of some journalists and their willingness to cross red-lines as well as the continued use of new media. Improvements were noted in the Middle East and North Africa areas with traditionally the least press freedom.
Freedom House Executive Director, Jennifer Windsor, said: “For every step forward in press freedom last year, there were two steps back. When press freedom is in retreat, it is an ominous sign that restrictions on other freedoms may soon follow. However, journalists in many countries of the world are pushing against boundaries, crossing the red-lines, demonstrating commitment and courage against great odds and we are seeing a greater global flow of information than ever before.”