Group reports global press freedom declined in 2014

WASHINGTON (AP) — Journalists in many parts of the world face deteriorating reporting conditions, with a democracy watchdog group noting a sharp decline in global press freedom in 2014.

In its annual report released Wednesday, the group Freedom House says global press freedom declined last year to its lowest point in more than 10 years. Only one in seven people live in countries where coverage of political news is strong, journalists' safety is guaranteed and state meddling in media affairs is minor, Freedom House said.

The worst offenders on the Freedom House list were: Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Ranked best: Norway, Sweden and Belgium. The United States was ranked 34th on the list of 199 countries and territories assessed.

Freedom House says one main factor driving the decline was newly passed restrictive laws against the media. The report cited laws in Russia and Mexico that place new controls on blogs. Physical violence and intimidation of journalists continued to be a problem, especially in places such as Syria and Nigeria.

"Governments used security or anti-terrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices," said the report's project manager, Jennifer Dunham. "Militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests."

Freedom House ranks countries as free, partly free or not free. Of the countries it looked at last year, it found 63, or 32 percent, as free; 71, or 36 percent, as partly free; and 65, or 32 percent, as not free.

Despite the recent diplomatic opening between the United States and Cuba, and the release of dozens of political prisoners late last year — the report notes that journalists remained behind bars in Cuba in 2014 and official censorship remained pervasive, leaving Cuba as one of the 10 worst offenders on the group's list.

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