News / USA

Report: Media Freedoms Worldwide at a 10-Year-Low

Report: Media Freedoms Worldwide at a 10-Year Lowi
May 01, 2014 8:40 AM
Despite an ever-expanding number of ways to put out news and information, a new report says the crackdown on media freedoms around the world has been unrelenting. 'Freedom of the Press 2014' says global press freedom has “fallen to its lowest level in over a decade,” with major setbacks in places that had been making progress only a few years ago. VOA’s Jeff Seldin has more on where the fight for a free media has fallen on hard times and on what it means for an information-hungry public.
Despite an ever-expanding number of ways to put out news and information, a new report says the crackdown on media freedoms around the world has been unrelenting. Freedom of the Press 2014 says global press freedom has “fallen to its lowest level in over a decade,” with major setbacks in places that had been making progress only a few years ago.
Just about everywhere, simply getting the news is getting harder. The non-profit democracy advocate Freedom House reported that media freedom is on the decline worldwide.
“We see attempts to control or manipulate the message, so increased use of propaganda, of trying to influence editorial content in advance.  Then what we also see is a crackdown and harassment of bloggers and people who are using these mediums to get out information,” said project director Karin Karlekar.
Media Freedom MapMedia Freedom Map
Media Freedom Map
Media Freedom Map

Karlekar said media freedoms eroded so badly in 2013 that only one out of every six people worldwide had access to a “Free” media.
In many areas that saw declines, she added, governments did not act alone.
“There were changes in media ownership at key outlets.  And then we saw changes in editorial tone, we saw pressure being placed on journalists,” said Karlerkar.
North Korea was ranked the worst of the 197 countries and territories rated by Freedom House.  Iran was also near the bottom despite a slight improvement during its presidential election. Syria, where journalists have been killed and kidnapped, was near the bottom as well. 
The Middle East as a whole saw the worst press freedom declines, led by Egypt, where the military-backed government cracked down hard, targeting journalists and putting them on trial.
Media Freedom in the Middle East and North AfricaMedia Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa
Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa
Media Freedom in the Middle East and North Africa

Others died covering the violence.
“We did have hope a few years ago because the openings created by the Arab spring had actually led to a sort of halt in this level of decline. But what we saw this year was that those openings had, you know, evaporated in many cases or there’s been significant backsliding in the Middle East,” said Karlekar.
Only two percent of the region’s population has access to a “Free” media, 14 percent to a “Partly Free” media; 84 percent live in countries where the media is “Not Free.”
Yet no region fared worse than Eurasia, where in Russia, journalists were jailed and beaten, some dying of their injuries. In Ukraine, journalists protested as colleagues suffered brutal assaults, some during the Euromaidan protests.
Media Freedom in EurasiaMedia Freedom in Eurasia
Media Freedom in Eurasia
Media Freedom in Eurasia

But the two former Soviet states were not alone. 
Journalists in Belarus again found themselves in court and under pressure, prompting calls for action from groups like the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE).
"Detentions [of journalists] have to stop now," said Dunja Mijatovic, an OSCE representative.
According to Freedom House, not a single person in Eurasia -- outside of Western Europe -- lives in a country with a free media; three percent of the region’s population has access to a “Partly Free” media while 97 percent live in countries rated as “Not Free.”
Turkey led the decline in media freedom for Europe, according to the Freedom House report, with the media coming under increased pressure after the Gezi Park protests broke out last May and with the government harassing journalists covering sensitive issues, with some top journalists losing their jobs.
Media Freedom in EuropeMedia Freedom in Europe
Media Freedom in Europe
Media Freedom in Europe

But Turkey also showed that sometimes governments can only go so far.
“We have seen in the case of Turkey, for example, there was a huge public outcry when Turkey tried to ban Twitter recently. So there is often a lot of public pushback to some of these more repressive measures by governments, which is a positive sign,” said Karlekar.
The report says, overall, 66 percent of Europeans live in countries with a “Free” media; 22 percent in countries with a “Partly Free” media; and only 12 percent in countries with a media rated as “Not Free.”
China was again at the forefront of the struggle for media freedom in the Asia-Pacific region. Supporters of a liberal Chinese paper at one point clashed with authorities, while others pushed for more freedom on social media, with little luck.
Media Freedom in the Asia Pacific RegionMedia Freedom in the Asia Pacific Region
Media Freedom in the Asia Pacific Region
Media Freedom in the Asia Pacific Region

“China’s always a country where there’s an extensive level of control, and when you do see these openings, such as in the micro-blogosphere in the last few years, that was an area that they really started to crack down on this past year, because they saw this is where people are sort of pushing the boundaries,” said Karlekar.
Vietnam also cracked down on online speech, while the pace of reform slowed in Burma, and Thailand slipped with increasing attacks on journalists.
Only 5 percent of the region’s population has access to a “Free” media, 47 percent have access to a “Partly Free” media, and 48 percent live in countries where the media is “not free.”
The struggle for media in Latin America was highlighted by developments in Venezuela, where post-election clashes between opponents and supporters of President Nicolas Maduro led to a media crackdown and new ownership for the country's 24-hour news network, Globovision.
Media Freedom in the AmericasMedia Freedom in the Americas
Media Freedom in the Americas
Media Freedom in the Americas

Journalists and their families also were intimidated and targeted, with deadly results in Mexico and Honduras.
On a positive note for the region, Cuba let a popular dissident blogger go on a world tour but, Freedom House said only two percent of Latin Americans live in countries with a “Free” media; 67 percent in countries rated as “Partly Free” and 31 percent in countries rated as “Not Free.”
In Africa, conflicts, like the coup in the Central African Republic, and violence, like the terrorist attack in Kenya at the Westgate shopping center, led to new pressures and more violence against journalists, while corruption raised concerns in Uganda, where one newspaper was briefly shut down. But Freedom House said that is only part of the story.
Media Freedom in Sub-Saharan AfricaMedia Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa
Media Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa
Media Freedom in Sub-Saharan Africa

“Pretty much every other region in the world showed an overall level of decline. But in Africa, the overall regional average score remained the same and there were really bright spots, I would say, in a number of countries in West Africa and then in Southern Africa,” said Karlekar.
Among other positives, the report points to better laws and a growing number of media outlets.
Overall, only 3 percent of sub-Saharan Africans have access to a “Free” media, 14 percent have access to a “Partly Free” media, and 41 percent live in countries where the media is “Not Free.”
Even some countries with a history of media freedom saw those freedoms erode, including the United States. Freedom House pointed to government efforts to harass journalists, especially those reporting on matters of national security.
The U.S. Justice Department went after a reporter at the New York Times to get his confidential sources and the government seized the phone records of journalists at the Associated Press.
It's a worrisome trend for the Poynter Institute's Kelly McBride, who spoke to VOA via Skype.
“News consumers are going to be more easily deceived and more confused about the truth.  And we’re already seeing that,” said McBride.
The end result, she said, is a media environment that puts the pressure on the audience to determine what is really legitimate.

Jeff Seldin

Jeff works out of VOA’s Washington headquarters covering a wide variety of subjects, from the nature of the growing terror threat in Northern Africa to China’s crackdown on Tibet and the struggle over immigration reform in the United States. You can follow Jeff on Twitter at @jseldin or on Google Plus.

You May Like

Russia's 'V-Day' Glory Over Nazis Overshadowed by Ukraine

Critics say Soviet-style display of power, nationalism don't recognize tragic scars of warfare that still influence politics, fighting in Ukraine More

Tensions Simmer in Hong Kong in Lead Up to Vote

Many Hong Kong citizen say if the reform plan will be a step back for the pro-democracy movement if passed More

Multimedia Obama Calls for New Commitment to Help Minority Youths Succeed

President introduces My Brother’s Keeper Alliance, foundation supporting better education and job prospects More

This forum has been closed.
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalistsi
May 04, 2015 3:32 PM
Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.

Video Campaign Raises Money to 'Uncuff' Journalists

Beginning Sunday – World Press Freedom Day – the Committee to Protect Journalists, a private U.S. group, is launching a campaign to bring attention to their plight and encourage efforts to free them. Deborah Block reports.

Video Volunteers Pull Together to Aid Baltimore Riot Victims

Calm has returned to Baltimore, Maryland, after authorities lifted an overnight curfew imposed almost a week ago to stem the rioting that followed the funeral of Freddie Gray - the 25-year-old black man who died of spinal injuries suffered while in police custody. Six police officers, three of them African-American, have been charged in connection with his death. Baltimore is now trying to get back to normal, in part with the help of volunteers who responded to calls to help those in the city'

Video From Aleppo To Berlin: Band of Brothers Escapes Civil War

Hundreds of thousands of Syrians have fled the civil war in their country and journeyed to Europe by boat across the Mediterranean. It is a terrifying ordeal with dangers at every turn. A group of Syrian brothers and their friends describe their ordeal as they try to reach Germany. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports. ...

Video Rural Nepal Suffers Brunt of Quake’s Devastation

Nepal is still coming to grips with the full extent of the devastation and misery caused by last Saturday’s magnitude 7.8 earthquake. Some of the hardest-hit communities have been cut off by landslides making it difficult to assess the precise toll. A VOA News crew has been among the first to reach a few of the smaller, remote communities. Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Sindhupolchak district, east of Kathmandu, which suffered greatly in Nepal’s worst quake in more than 80 years.

Video Obama Praises Work of 3 Immigrant Journalists

President Barack Obama met with three immigrant journalists at the White House Friday to praise them for their work ahead of World Press Freedom Day, May 3. In attendance: Dieu Cay (his pen name) a blogger from Vietnam recently released from prison; Lily Mengesha from Ethiopia who was harassed and detained for exposing the marrying off of young girls as child brides, and Fatima Tlisova, an ethnic Circassian from the North Caucasus region of Russia, who works for VOA's Russian Service.

Video Middle East Atheist Channel Defies Taboo

In Egypt, a deeply religious country in a deeply religious region, atheism is not only taboo, it is dangerous. It is sometimes even criminal to publicly declare nonbelief. Despite the danger, one group of activists is pushing back with a new online channel that defends the right not to believe. VOA’s Heather Murdock reports.

Video Black Families Use Baltimore Case to Revisit 'Police Talk'

Following Freddie Gray’s death in police custody this month, VOA interviewed black families throughout the eastern U.S. city of Baltimore about how they discuss the case. Over and over, parents pointed to a crucial talk they say every black mother or father has with their children. Victoria Macchi has more on how this conversation is passed down through generations.

Video Nepal Quake Survivors Tell Their Stories

Against all hope, rescuers have found a few more survivors of the devastating earthquake that hit Nepal last Saturday. Mountain climbers and hikers trapped in remote places also have been airlifted to safety, and aid is finally reaching people in the areas closest to the quake's epicenter. Survivors and rescuers are now recounting their experience. Zlatica Hoke has this story.

Video Lessons for Germany, Europe Remain on Anniversary of WWII's End

The 70th anniversary of the end of World War II will be marked May 8-9 in all European countries except Germany, which lost the war. How is the war viewed there, and what impact is it still having? From Berlin, VOA’s Al Pessin reports.

Video Nepal Town Destroyed By Quake Counts Itself Lucky

Foreign search teams on Wednesday began reaching some of the communities outside Kathmandu that suffered worse damage than Nepal’s capital from last Saturday’s massive earthquake. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman is in Sankhu - a town of about 10,000 people - where there is relief the death toll is not higher despite widespread destruction.

Video First Surgical Glue Approved for Use Inside Body

While medical adhesives are becoming more common, none had been approved for use inside the body until now. Earlier this year, the first ever biodegradable surgical glue won that approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports on the innovation and its journey from academia to market.

Video Somali Hotel Chain Owner Strives to Make a Difference

Many in the Somali diaspora are returning home to make a new life despite the continuing risks. Since 2011 when a military campaign against Al-Shabab militants began making progress, members of the diaspora community have come back to open hospitals, schools, hotels, restaurants and other businesses. Abdulaziz Billow in Mogadishu profiles the owner of a chain of hotels and restaurants who is helping to bring change to the once-deadly Somali capital.

Video Study: One in Six Species Threatened with Extinction

Climate change is transforming the planet. Unless steps are taken to reduce global warming, scientists predict rising seas, stronger and more frequent storms, drought, fire and floods. As VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports, a new study on species extinction underscores the need to take action to avoid the most catastrophic effects of rising temperatures.

Video Child Migrants Cross Mediterranean Alone, Face Unknown Future

Among the thousands of migrants making the deadly journey by boat to Europe, there are unaccompanied girls and boys. Some have been sent by relatives to earn money; others are orphaned or fleeing war. From a shelter for young migrants in the Sicilian town of Caltagirone, VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.

Video Baltimore Riots Shed Light on City’s Troubled Past

National Guard troops took up positions Tuesday in Baltimore, Maryland, as authorities tried to restore order after rioting broke out a day earlier. It followed Monday's funeral of a 25-year-old black man who died while in police custody earlier this month. VOA's Chris Simkins reports.

Poll: Baltimore Police Charged

Poll archive

VOA Blogs