Journalists are facing an increasingly dismal working environment, with a decline in global press freedom in every region of the world. Those are among the findings of a report released Friday by Freedom House, a Washington-based organization that supports freedom around the world.
In the nearly 30 years Freedom House has been rating global press freedom, 2008 is the first year it has reported declines in every region across the world.
The executive director of Freedom House, Jennifer Windsor, says the journalism profession is fighting to stay alive, which she warns has enormous implications for democracy. "Declines have been registered in established democracies, as well as partly free countries, and the most repressive regimes have continued to tighten their grip in order to control the information flows that have become increasingly globalized and out of their control," she said.
The annual media study says twice as many countries declined in press freedoms than gained last year.
The gains, the group says, were overshadowed by a campaign of intimidation targeting independent media, particularly in the former Soviet Union, the Middle East and North Africa.
Karin Karlekar of Freedom House is the managing editor of the report. "We found that only 17 percent of the world's population lives in countries that enjoy a fully free press. While 41 percent live in partly free media environments and 42 percent, a significant percentage, live in countries with a not free press," she said.
Karlekar says of the 195 countries covered in the study, only 36 percent are rated as having a free press.
She says Central and Eastern Europe and the former Soviet states suffered the biggest drop in press freedom, with Russia's judiciary unwilling to protect journalists from attacks. "We note that a number of authoritarian governments are also moving to consolidate control, and in this category I would note particularly the case of Russia, which has seen a substantial numerical decline over the last few years, where the space for free media has significantly shrunk," she said.
Israel, Italy and Hong Kong slipped from the study's free category to partly free status.
The report says Israel fell due to restrictions on journalists and official attempts to influence coverage during the conflict with Hamas in the Gaza Strip.
The study says Italy slipped because the country is limiting free speech with libel laws and the intimidation of journalists by organized crime.
Freedom House says it downgraded Hong Kong because Beijing is exerting growing influence over the media there.
Karin Karlekar says the level of violence against journalists is growing.
"The main worry that we have is regarding harassment and in the worst cases murder of journalists. The level of violence against media workers continues to rise. In many countries the governments really do not take sufficient efforts to prosecute these cases. So impunity is a key factor fueling both the violence as well as rising levels of self-censorship by journalists."
The world's worst rated countries continue to include Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan.
In the Americas, the study reported a drop in press freedom in Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.