The U.S.-based organization Freedom House says media freedom declined in many parts of the world last year. The group's annual study of reporters' freedom says 42 percent of the world's people live in countries without basic freedom of the media. VOA's Kent Klein reports from Washington.
The report is titled A Year of Global Decline. Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor says that decline continued a six-year trend, and setbacks in media freedom outnumbered advances two-to-one.
"If press freedom is increasing, we see the opportunities for freedom in other areas increasing. Conversely, if press freedom is in the decline, it can threaten other freedoms in the country," said Windsor.
Freedom House surveyed 195 countries and territories, rating them as Free, Partly Free or Not Free. Those ratings are based on countries' legal, political and economic conditions for journalists.
The study lists North Korea as the world's most repressive media environment. Second from the bottom is Burma, whose military government has been accused of routinely threatening and imprisoning journalists and sources.
The chief of VOA's Burmese Service, Than Lwin Htun, says he is not surprised by Burma's low ranking. Several years ago, Htun says he called an opposition leader who had just been released from prison.
"And she spoke to me, and during the conversation she was even joking about it, 'I don't know that after this conversation my telephone line will be cut off, or I will have a little bit of trouble.' But, not only her telephone line cut off, she was put back into the prison for two more years," he said.
Overall, 72 countries were listed as Free, comprising 18 percent of the world's people. Partly Free countries are home to 40 percent of the population, and 42 percent live in the 64 countries listed as Not Free.
At the same time, the Freedom House report shows some improvement in the Middle East and North Africa, the region it said has the least media freedom. The study says a growing number of journalists in those areas are willing to challenge government restraints.
Jennifer Windsor of Freedom House also says ordinary citizens are increasingly turning to "new media" such as the internet for news and information.
"And a lot of the gains that we are seeing are people are that are using the internet. But I also think we still need to look to broadcast and print media which still reach important audiences," added Windsor.
The countries with the greatest amount of media freedom in 2007, according to the survey, were Finland and Iceland, with Denmark and Norway close behind.
The United States was in a four-way tie for 21st.