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PRESS FREEDOM DETERIORATES
Proportion of Global Population With Access to Free Media Plunges
to New Low
Italy Drops to “Partly Free”
April 28, 2004 – Press freedom suffered a substantial
worldwide decline in 2003, according to a major study released
today by Freedom House.
political pressure, and violence by state and non-state actors
against journalists combined to worsen conditions in many countries,
resulting in the second consecutive year of a global decline
in freedom for news media.
Freedom of the Press 2004: A Global Survey of Media Independence,
revealed that some of the most serious setbacks took place in
countries where democracy is backsliding, such as in Bolivia
and Russia, and in older, established democracies, most notably
was released in advance of World Press Freedom Day, which takes
place May 3.
the report is available online at www.freedomhouse.org/research/pressurvey.htm
assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and Internet freedom
in every country in the world and assigns to each a category
rating of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. It analyzes events
during the calendar year 2003.
the study shows that ten countries—Bolivia, Bulgaria,
Cape Verde, Gabon, Guatemala, Guinea-Bissau, Italy, Moldova,
Morocco, and the Philippines—declined in category, while
only two countries—Kenya and Sierra Leone—registered
positive category shifts.
East/North Africa features the least media freedom, with 90%
of the region’s countries rated Not Free.
Of the 193
countries surveyed (including the Israeli-Administered Territories/Palestinian
Authority), 73 (38%, representing 17% of the global population)
were rated Free, with no significant restrictions on the news
media; 49 (25%, 40%) were rated Partly Free and are characterized
by some media restrictions; and 71 (37%, 43%) were rated Not
Free, with state control or other obstacles to a free press.
of the world’s population living in countries with free
media has declined by five percent over the last two years,
while the number of people living in not free media environments
has increased by five percent.
and fewer people throughout the world have uncensored and unfettered
access to information about their own countries,” said
Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. “Most
distressing is that some of this deterioration is taking place
in democracies, where a free press is a necessary component
of vibrant democratic life.”
increased media concentration and subsequent political pressure
led to the downgrading of the country from Free to Partly Free.
Minister Silvio Berlusconi has been able to exert undue influence
over the public broadcaster RAI,” said Karin Deutsch Karlekar,
the survey’s managing editor. “This further exacerbates
an already worrisome media environment characterized by unbalanced
coverage within Berlusconi’s enormous media empire.”
media holdings include Italy’s three largest private television
dramatic media opening of the year took place in Iraq, previously
ranked as one of the world’s most repressive press environments.
toppling of Saddam Hussein’s regime in April, hundreds
of new publications are covering a wide range of opinions. Iraqis
were able to gain unfettered access to the Internet and to uncensored
foreign television broadcasts. Nevertheless, a continuing lack
of security, the murders of at least 13 journalists, and an
ambiguous legal and regulatory media framework kept Iraq in
the ranks of the Not Free countries despite its impressive numerical
gains, as noted in the survey’s rating system.
improvements took place in Sierra Leone, where increasing political
stability after the end of civil war has allowed journalists
to operate much more freely. The country moved from Not Free
to Partly Free. In Kenya, the media have demonstrated greater
editorial independence and the number of press freedom abuses
have declined considerably under the new democratic government.
Kenya’s status also improved from Not Free to Partly Free.
some specific recent improvements, and an overall upward trend
towards greater press freedom worldwide during the late 1990s,
the last two years have seen a dramatic deterioration,”
said Dr. Karlekar. “State-directed intimidation and attempts
to influence the media are being perpetrated by governments
that seem to be increasingly unwilling to tolerate critical
Political, Economic, and Legal Pressure
In a number
of countries, political turmoil and election-related violence
negatively impacted the press.
the government and opposition supporters threatened and physically
harassed journalists, leading to a decline in that country’s
rating to Partly Free. In Rwanda, officials denied all candidates
equal access to media coverage while using state-run media to
lambaste the opposition.
intimidation of the press took place in Argentina, Azerbaijan,
Guatemala, and Guinea. Elections scheduled for 2004 prompted
campaigns against the independent media in Algeria, Cameroon,
Tunisia, and Ukraine, mostly in the form of increased legal
harassment and pressure.
noted growing political and economic influence over the media
in other countries. In Romania, for instance, the increasing
use of lawsuits by authorities against independent media outlets
and a rise in attacks against journalists led to a significant
decline in the country’s numerical rating.
which dropped to Partly Free, the government maintained its
control over state broadcasters and awarded advertising revenue
to pro-government media. In Gabon, the government orchestrated
a clampdown on private media, including revoking publishing
licenses and suspending or banning a number of private publications,
leading to a ratings downgrade to Not Free.
worsened in Russia, which was downgraded to Not Free in 2002.
In 2003, the Kremlin consolidated its near total control over
the broadcast media. Authorities also used legislation and financial
pressure to further restrict critical coverage, particularly
on sensitive topics such as the war in Chechnya.
pressures can lead to an increase in self-censorship among journalists,”
said Ms. Windsor. “Unfortunately these factors are often
overlooked when examining levels of press freedom.”
countries, new legislation led to category downgrades, including
in Morocco, which regressed to Not Free after thirteen years
at Partly Free. In May, the government invoked Article 41 of
new anti-terror legislation that set stricter limits on and
penalties for speech offenses.