Global press freedom has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade, due to "major regression" in several Middle Eastern states, marked setbacks in Turkey and Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa; and deterioration in the relatively open media environment of the US, a report showed here Thursday.
Freedom of the Press 2014 report found that "despite positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, setbacks were the dominant trend in every other region." It indicated that the share of the world's population with media rated "Free" remains at just 14 percent. Far larger shares live in "Not Free" (44 percent) or "Partly Free" (42 percent) media environments.
Freedom's House "Freedom of the Press" Project Director Dr. Karin Karlekar said on the release of the report, of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2013, a total of 63 were rated Free, 68 were rated Partly Free, and 66 were rated Not Free.
She added that all regions except sub-Saharan Africa, showed declines, "which is very worrying" with the Middle East and North Africa "suffering the worst deterioration." "We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments' efforts to control the message and punish the messenger," said Dr. Karlekar.
She stressed "in every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists." She affirmed that in 2013 "we saw more cases of states targeting foreign reporters and media outlets." She also shed light on the key factors for the decline, such as attacking the messenger, targeting foreign media, clamping down on new media and controlling content via ownership, where "the new owners, with close connections to governments or ruling parties, altered editorial lines or dismissed outspoken staff." According to the report, country improvements were "largely" driven by "a growing ability of private firms to operate television and radio outlets; greater access to a variety of views via online media, social media, and international outlets; and improved respect for legal protections for the press." As for the Middle East and North Africa, only two percent of the region's people lived in Free media environments, while the vast majority, 84 percent, lived in Not Free countries or territories. Only one country was ranked in the Free category, four were designated Partly Free and 14 were assessed as Not Free.
The regional average score had improved "significantly" in 2011, particularly in the legal and political categories, due to changes associated with the Arab Spring uprisings but the following year featured "serious backsliding," and this continued in 2013, driven almost entirely by declines in the political category.
There were a total of 10 status changes in the 2014 report, with four in a positive and six in a negative direction. Most were from the Partly Free to the Not Free category.
The world's eight "worst-rated" countries, with scores of between 90 and 100 points, where the lower the score the better the press freedom status, remain Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the report noted.
The year featured the "most significant decline of the past decade in one of the world's largest democracies, the United States, due to government attempts to control official information flows, particularly concerning national security related issues