News

Report: Only 14.5 Percent of People Have Access to Free Press

Manager of Freedom House's freedom of expression campaign, Courtney Radsch
Manager of Freedom House's freedom of expression campaign, Courtney Radsch

A Washington-based human rights organization says that, overall, press freedom around the world stopped declining in 2011.  But while there are positive changes in some countries, the overall picture is not too bright.  Last year, less than 15 percent of the world's population had access to a free press.  

The manager of Freedom House's freedom of expression campaign, Courtney Radsch, says press freedom gains in 2011 offset the declines.  

"For the first time in eight years, the negative trend that we've seen with the declines in freedom of expression around the world was staid and we actually saw some slight uptick and improvement, in large part due to gains in the Middle East," said Radsch. "Libya, Tunisia, Egypt all went from 'not free' to 'partly free,' which was a pretty momentous change, and we also had countries like Burma that came out from under incredibly oppressive political rule."  

Radsch made the comments at a news conference in Washington Thursday, as Freedom House released its annual press freedom report.

Radsch said of the 197 countries and territories that were assessed in 2011 - including the newest country of South Sudan - 66 [or 33.5%] were rated 'free,' 72 [or 36.5%] were 'partly free' and 59 [or 30%] were rated 'not free.'  

That means roughly one-third of the world's countries fill each category, but Radsch says that is not the case for the world's inhabitants.

"But if you look at the population, it's a bit more dire," she said. "We found that only about 14.5 percent of the world's inhabitants live in a country with a free press, where they can express themselves, the press is economically independent and free from political interference, and this is, of course, incredibly disturbing."   

German Foreign Minister Guido Westerwelle delivered remarks at the start of the panel.  He said it may seem that a free press is a reality in this era of the Internet and social networking websites, but that is not the case worldwide.

"We all know in Iran and elsewhere, censorship continues to oppress the free flow of information, to distort facts and to change the perception of reality," said Westerwelle. "Not only in Belarus, journalists still are behind bars, for the mere fact that they act according to Article 19 [of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights].  As we speak, journalists have died, have been attacked and risk being killed while reporting about the bloodshed in Syria.  All that reminds us of how heavy the responsibilities of journalists are and how precious and dangerous their daily work can be."

The Freedom House report says the media environment in the Middle East and North Africa underwent major improvements in 2011, but remained the worst-performing part of the world.  Sub-Saharan Africa suffered a marginal decline in press freedom, with some backsliding in countries that had improved in 2010, while, Zambia, Niger and Sierra Leone showed some improvements.

According to the report, Western Europe has consistently boasted the highest level of press freedom worldwide, while press freedoms declined significantly in Central and Eastern Europe.  The Americas also experienced a worsening of press freedom in 2011.  The United States remained a strong performer, but it experienced a slight decline because of difficulties reporters faced covering the Occupy protests.  Mexico continued to be one of the world's most dangerous places for journalists.

The Freedom House report is based on nations' legal environments, political control over the media, economic pressures on content and harassment of journalists.

Press Freedom Challenges in the US

Radsch made this comment about the challeges to a free press in the United States:

"One of the challenges here in the United States is the economic consolidation and the increasingly dire economic situation for newspapers in particular, the closure of independent outlets, and we still lack a federal shield law. There are some states that have shield law, which essentially allows a journalist to protect their sources, but we've also seen attempts to create legal mechanisms and use, for example, some of the anti-terrorism laws as a way to get information from journalists. So, I think one of the things that our survey underscores, especially in the cases of Hungary and the United States, is that even consolidated democracies face challenges in protecting freedom of expression and freedom of the press. As you know, our survey looks at the entire environment, so it looks at the political, legal and economic environment because it really is about the media ecosystem that presents a free press."

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments page of 2
 Previous    
by: Gary Hayward
May 03, 2012 4:42 PM
Under any kind of economic system, necessarily there is a price tag on everything -- including speech. The more money you have, the louder you can talk -- indeed, shout; to greater the number of people; and to people the higher up the socio-politico-economic scale. From billboards to commercial TV airtime -- heck, if you're rich enough, go set up or buy your own newspaper or radio/TV station to get your messages across!

by: Michael Leonard Rolwey
May 03, 2012 4:29 PM
Wonder when we will have a Free Press again in the USA.

by: george Ronald Adkisson
May 03, 2012 4:16 PM
Freedom of the press is a necessity for any civilized government that practices governing in a fair and impartial manner. Etiquette...
Dealing with or living near the uS is another subject to be written in a book...as soon as all the legislation that could abridge the book contents is thoroughly searched and employed.

by: W. Parkyn
May 03, 2012 4:10 PM
And the other 85.5% have press with right wing or left wing or their own agendas. News is no longer about providing facts but gaining market share.

by: al Dorman
May 03, 2012 3:51 PM
Just so Mrs. Radsch is clear, the US does not have a free press. The MSM is tightly controlled by the PR industry. The country is free, the press is heavily redacted.
Comments page of 2
 Previous    

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponentsi
X
Henry Ridgwell
July 28, 2015 9:53 PM
A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Russia Accused of Abusing Interpol to Pursue Opponents

A British pro-democracy group has accused Russia of abusing the global law enforcement agency Interpol by requesting the arrest and extradition of political opponents. A new report by the group notes such requests can mean the accused are unable to travel and are often unable to open bank accounts. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Genome Initiative Urgently Moves to Freeze DNA Before Species Go Extinct

Earth is in the midst of its sixth mass extinction. The last such event was caused by an asteroid 66 million years ago. It killed off the dinosaurs and practically everything else. So scientists are in a race against time to classify the estimated 11 million species alive today. So far only 2 million are described by science, and researchers are worried many will disappear before they even have a name. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble reports.
Video

Video Scientists: One-Dose Malaria Cure is Possible

Scientists have long been trying to develop an effective protection and cure for malaria - one of the deadliest diseases that affects people in tropical areas, especially children. As the World Health Organization announces plans to begin clinical trials of a promising new vaccine, scientists in South Africa report that they too are at an important threshold. George Putic reports, they are testing a compound that could be a single-dose cure for malaria.
Video

Video Special Olympics Athletes Meet International Friends

The Special Olympics are underway in Los Angeles, California, with athletes from 165 countries participating in an event that gives people with intellectual disabilities the chance to take part in an international competition. VOA's Mike O'Sullivan reports that for athletes and their families, it's also an opportunity to make new friends in an international setting.
Video

Video 'New York' Magazine Features 35 Cosby Accusers

The latest issue of 'New York' magazine features 35 women who say they were drugged and raped by film and television celebrity Bill Cosby. The women are aged from 44 to 80 and come from different walks of life and races. The magazine interviewed each of them separately, but Zlatica Hoke reports their stories are similar.
Video

Video US Calls Fight Against Human Trafficking a Must Win

The United States is promising not to give up its fight against what Secretary of State John Kerry calls the “scourge” of modern slavery. Officials released the country’s annual human trafficking report Monday – a report that’s being met with some criticism. VOA’s National Security correspondent Jeff Seldin has more from the State Department.
Video

Video Iran Nuclear Pact Wins Few New US Congressional Backers

Later this week, President Barack Obama returns from a trip to Africa to confront a U.S. Congress roiled by the nuclear accord with Iran, an agreement that has received the blessing of the U.N. Security Council. Days of intensive lobbying and testimony by top administration officials have won few new congressional supporters of the pact. VOA’s Michael Bowman reports.
Video

Video Washington DC Underground Streetcar Station to Become Arts Venue

Abandoned more than 50 years ago, the underground streetcar station in Washington D.C.’s historic DuPont Circle district is about to be reborn. The plan calls for turning the spacious underground platforms - once meant to be a transportation hub, - into a unique space for art exhibitions, presentations, concerts and even a film set. Roman Mamonov has more from beneath the streets of the U.S. capital. Joy Wagner narrates his report.
Video

Video Europe’s Twin Crises Collide in Greece as Migrant Numbers Soar

Greece has replaced Italy as the main gateway for migrants into Europe, with more than 100,000 arrivals in the first six months of 2015. Many want to move further into Europe and escape Greece’s economic crisis, but they face widespread dangers on the journey overland through the Balkans. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
Video

Video Stink Intensifies as Lebanon’s Trash Crisis Continues

After the closure of a major rubbish dump a week ago, the streets of Beirut are filling up with trash. Having failed to draw up a plan B, politicians are struggling to deal with the problem. John Owens has more for VOA from Beirut.
Video

Video Paris Rolls Out Blueprint to Fight Climate Change

A U.N. climate conference in December aims to produce an ambitious agreement to fight heat-trapping greenhouse gases. But many local governments are not waiting, and have drafted their own climate action plans. That’s the case with Paris — which is getting special attention, since it’s hosting the climate summit. Lisa Bryant takes a look for VOA at the transformation of the French capital into an eco-city.
Video

Video Racially Diverse Spider-Man Takes Center Stage

Whether it’s in a comic book or on the big screen, fans have always known the man behind the Spider-Man mask as Peter Parker. But that is changing, at least in the comic book world. Marvel Comics announced that a character called Miles Morales will replace Peter Parker as Spider-Man in a new comic book series. He is half Latino, half African American, and he is quite popular among comic book fans. Correspondent Elizabeth Lee reports from Los Angeles.
Video

Video Critics of Japan Defense Policy Focus on Okinawa

In Okinawa, many locals have long complained that Tokyo places an unfair burden on the tiny island by locating most of Japan's U.S. military bases there. As Japan's government moves toward strengthening and expanding the country's defense policies, opponents of those plans are joining local protesters in Okinawa, voicing concern about where the country is headed. VOA’s Brian Padden reports from Okinawa.
Video

Video IS Uses Chemical Weapons in Syrian Attack

Islamic State militants have added a new weapon in their arsenal of fear: chemical weapons. VOA Kurdish service reporter Zana Omer was on the scene within hours of a recent attack in Hasakah, Syria, and has details of the subsequent investigation, in this report narrated by Miguel Amaya.
Video

Video Historic Symbol Is Theme of Vibrant New Show

A new exhibit in Washington is paying tribute to the American flag with a wide and eclectic selection of artwork that uses the historic symbol as its central theme. VOA’s Julie Taboh was at the DC Chamber of Commerce for the show’s opening.

VOA Blogs