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January 30, 2013

Report: Arab Spring Not Bringing More Press Freedoms

by VOA News

A global media monitoring group says press freedom did not improve last year in North Africa and the Middle East, despite the so-called Arab Spring that continued to sweep the region.

In its annual World Press Freedom Index released Wednesday, Reporters Without Borders ranked the protest-hit regions as the worst in the world. It said media freedom remained "deplorable" in Tunisia and Egypt, where protests forced a change of government.

​​In Syria, the report said journalists and netizens [Internet users] are victims of an "information war" waged by both the Assad government and opposition groups that are "increasingly intolerant of dissent." It said Syria was the deadliest country for journalists in 2012.

The rest of Africa and the Asia-Pacific region also ranked poorly in the report by the France-based organization.

Mali, which was hit by a military coup and subsequent Islamist takeover in the north, fell 74 spots - the biggest drop in the global rankings. The biggest leap belonged to Malawi, which rose 74 spots following the death of ruler Bingu wa Mutharika. But Africa also claimed the world's worst country for press freedom, Eritrea, which was called a "vast open prison" that "lets journalists die in detention."

The report said freedom of information also was on the decline in Asia, which had 15 of the bottom 45 rankings in the index. It said there was no sign of improvement in North Korea, China, Vietnam or Laos, where one-party authoritarian governments "still refuse to grant their citizens the freedom to be informed."

One exception was Burma, which the report said took "significant steps toward genuine freedom of information" in 2012. The report said journalists in Burma are no longer imprisoned, and it praised the reformist government's early steps toward legislative reform.

The top three spots belonged to Finland, the Netherlands and Norway, all of which headed the index last year. The United States gained 15 spots to finish at 32nd in the world.