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Citizens' Access to Information Limited in Many Countries

  • Mariama Diallo

Media freedom is usually considered essential for healthy and vibrant societies. But as the hunger for unlimited information grows globally, some governments are doing whatever they can to limit -- and sometimes block -- access to it.

Everyone wants access to unlimited and unobstructed information but not everyone gets it.

“Seeking and receiving information is a fundamental human right," stresses Joel Simon, Executive Director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, an independent organization that promotes press freedom worldwide. His organization recently published a report on the world’s 10 most-censored nations. The East African country of Eritrea is at the top of the list.



“Eritrea is just completely closed," he explained. "No journalists are getting in. There are no international bureaus. It’s completely censored. ”

But Dawit Haile from the Eritrean embassy in Washington says the report is groundless.

"There are various and many types of satellite dishes that are available throughout the city," Haile noted, "but also the countryside - also the city is filled with internet cafes, and people read all kinds of information.”

Eritrea is not alone. This year's CPJ list includes countries like North Korea, Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Cuba, Belarus, and a new entry from the Middle East.

“Saudi Arabia has long been a closed society," explained Simon of the CPJ. "A wide range of political criticism that might be defined as blasphemy, as criticism of religious institutions, is heavily suppressed.”

No immediate response to the report was available from the Saudi embassy in Washington.

Although professional journalists continue to play a critical role, more of the information flow is being provided by citizen journalists, through blogs and social media platforms. Mark Jurkowitz is with the Pew Research Center’s Excellence in Journalism project - a non-partisan and non-profit organization.

“We have seen journalism, or at least the disseminating of news and information, move from just those who had the ability to own a printing press or a TV station to frankly almost anyone, any citizen. That’s a tremendously important development,” noted Jurkowitz.

In the age of information overload, it can sometimes be hard to know what's true. And governments are still able to censor information - protecting their own interests, often at the expense of people's right to know. But despite the never-ending challenges of news gathering, most journalists go out every day with a simple goal of giving the viewer, listener or reader the truth. Most journalists take that role seriously, some even paying the ultimate price. So far this year, 17 journalists have died.

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