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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Comment Sorting
by: Aron Tsegai
May 03, 2012 12:51 PM
VOA has a corespondent in Eritrea and they can report anything they like, internet cafe are open until 10pm through out the city so unless you never being to Eritrea or you have ulterior motive to claim people are afraid to open letters.

by: Aron Tsegai
May 03, 2012 12:48 PM
Yonas who gave you the right to represent Eritrea? Dawit is representing the Eritrean government and he has every right to speak on behave of the Eritrean people. Since you are not representing anyone I am not so sure you have the right to speak on our behave. What Dawit said is not lie, after all Eritreans in Eritrea have access to any satellite News from the middle east to regional and international CNN coverages.

by: Yonas Gebreselassie
May 02, 2012 9:47 PM
In Eritrea there is no separation of power among the three branches of Goverment and the judiciary is under a complete control by the Ministry of Justice, which is the executive branch. It is also the Executive branch that enacts laws and promulgates proclamation. As a result, the detainees of September 18, 2001, could not be rescued. We commend the Committee to Protect journalists for becoming a voice to the voiceless and the great work.

by: Yonas Gebreselassie
May 02, 2012 9:45 PM
I can't help but wonder how low some people could get when deciding to lie. It is very sad having people like the man (Dawit Haile) from the Eritrean Embassy to represent the entire population. People in Eritrea are scared to death to read even letters sent from abroad in their own homes let alone to check and read news and reports in internet cafes. We do not press legislation aimed at protecting freedom of expression and the press and no private news papers.

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