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

HRW: Egypt's Trial of Morsi ‘Badly Flawed’

Human Rights Watch says former Egypt leader's detention without charge for more than three weeks after his removal from office violated Egyptian law; government rejects criticism More

Photogallery Lancet Report Calls for Major Investment in Surgery

In its report published by The Lancet, panel of experts says people are dying from conditions easily treated in the operating room such as hernia, appendicitis, obstructed labor, and serious fractures More

Music Industry Under Sway of Digital Revolution

Millions of people in every corner of the Earth now can enjoy a vast variety and quantity of music in a way that has never before been possible 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.
Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populationsi
April 24, 2015 10:13 PM
A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Study: Insecticide Damaging Wild Bee Populations

A popular but controversial type of insecticide is damaging important wild bee populations, according to a new study. VOA’s Steve Baragona has more.

Video Data Servers Could Heat Private Homes

As every computer owner knows, when their machines run a complex program they get pretty hot. In fact, cooling the processors can be expensive, especially when you're dealing with huge banks of computer servers. But what if that energy could heat private homes? VOA’s George Putic reports that a Dutch energy firm aims to do just that.

Video Cinema That Crosses Borders Showcased at Tribeca Film Festival

Among the nearly 100 feature length films being shown at this year’s Tribeca Film Festival in New York City are more than 20 documentaries and features with international appeal, from a film about a Congolese businessman in China, to documentaries shot in Pakistan and diaspora communities in the U.S., to a poetic look at disaffected South African youth. VOA’s Carolyn Weaver has more.

Video UN Confronts Threat of Young Radicals

The radicalization and recruitment of young people into Islamist extremist groups has become a growing challenge for governments worldwide. On Thursday, the U.N. Security Council heard from experts on the issue, which has become a potent threat to international peace and security. VOA’s Margaret Besheer reports.

Video Growing Numbers of Turks Discover Armenian Ancestry

In a climate of improved tolerance, growing numbers of people in Turkey are discovering their grandmothers were Armenian. Hundreds of thousands of Armenians escaped the mass deportations and slaughter of the early 1900's by forced conversion to Islam. Or, Armenian children were taken in by Turkish families and assimilated. Now their stories are increasingly being heard. Dorian Jones reports from Istanbul that the revelations are viewed as an important step.

Video Migrants Trek Through Western Balkans to Reach EU

Migrants from Africa and other places are finding different routes into the European Union in search of a better life. The Associated Press followed one clandestine group to document their trek through the western Balkans to Hungary. Zlatica Hoke reports that the migrants started using that route about four years ago. Since then, it has become the second-most popular path into Western Europe, after the option of sailing from North Africa to Italy.

Video TIME Magazine Honors Activists, Pioneers Seen as Influential

TIME Magazine has released its list of celebrities, leaders and activists, whom it deems the world’s “most influential” in 2015. VOA's Ramon Taylor reports from New York.

Video US Businesses See Cuba as New Frontier

The Obama administration's opening toward Cuba is giving U.S. companies hope they'll be able to do business in Cuba despite the continuation of the U.S. economic embargo against the communist nation. Some American companies have been able to export some products to Cuba, but the recent lifting of Cuba's terrorism designation could relax other restrictions. As VOA's Daniela Schrier reports, corporate heavy hitters are lining up to head across the Florida Straits - though experts urge caution.

Video Kenya Launches Police Recruitment Drive After Terror Attacks

Kenya launched a major police recruitment drive this week as part of a large-scale effort to boost security following a recent spate of terror attacks. VOA’s Gabe Joselow reports that allegations of corruption in the process are raising old concerns about the integrity of Kenya’s security forces.

Video Japan, China in Race for Asia High-Speed Rail Projects

A lucrative competition is underway in Asia for billions of dollars in high-speed rail projects. Cambodia, India, Indonesia, Malaysia Thailand and Vietnam are among the countries planning to move onto the fast track. They are negotiating with Japan and the upstart Chinese who are locked in a duel to revolutionize transportation across Asia. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman in Bangkok has details.

Video Scientists: Mosquitoes Attracted By Our Genes

Some people always seem to get bitten by mosquitoes more than others. Now, scientists have proved that is really the case - and they say it’s all because of genes. It’s hoped the research might lead to new preventative treatments for diseases like malaria, as Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

Video Bible Museum Coming to Washington DC

Washington is the center of American political power and also home to some of the nation’s most visited museums. A new one that will showcase the Bible has skeptics questioning the motives of its conservative Christian funders. VOA religion correspondent Jerome Socolovsky reports.

Video Armenia and Politics of Word 'Genocide'

A century ago this April, hundreds of thousands of Armenians of the Turkish Ottoman empire were deported and massacred, and their culture erased from their traditional lands. While broadly accepted by the U.N. and at least 20 countries as “genocide”, the United States and Turkey have resisted using that word to describe the atrocities that stretched from 1915 to 1923. But Armenians have never forgotten.

Video Afghan First Lady Pledges No Roll Back on Women's Rights

Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, named one of Time's 100 Most Influential, says women should take part in talks with Taliban. VOA's Rokhsar Azamee has more from Kabul.

Video New Brain Mapping Techniques Could Ease Chronic Pain

From Boulder, Colorado, Shelley Schlender reports that new methods for mapping pain in the brain are providing validation for chronic pain and might someday guide better treatment.

VOA Blogs