Global press freedom is in bad shape

FTOP Map2Freedom HouseFreedom House’s map shows the status of press freedom around the world

Bad news for journalists: Freedom House published its 35th annual Freedom of the Press Report today and among its chief findings was that press freedom has declined over the past year to a 10 year low.

Even worse, the rate of decline accelerated drastically, with the world seeing its largest one year drop in press freedom in a decade. As of today, only 14 per cent of the world enjoys a truly free press, meaning only one in seven people live in a country where there is a true fourth estate.

Freedom House attributes this sharp decline to two factors: the passage and use of restrictive laws against the press — often on national security grounds — and the ability of local and foreign journalists to physically access and report freely from a given country, including protest sites and conflict areas.

Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher MohamedREUTERS/StringerAl Jazeera journalists (L-R) Mohammed Fahmy, Peter Greste and Baher Mohamed stand behind bars at a court in Cairo May 15, 2014.

In a time of unlimited information sharing and access to content delivery, it still seems as if there are many parts of the world that deny journalists the right to do their job.

“Journalists faced intensified pressure from all sides in 2014,” said Jennifer Dunham, project manager of the report. “Governments used security or antiterrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices, militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests.”

Key findings of the report:

  • Of the 199 countries and territories assessed during 2014, a total of 63 (32 per cent) were rated Free, 71 (36 per cent) Partly Free, and 65 (32 per cent) Not Free.
  • All regions except sub-Saharan Africa, whose average score improved slightly, showed declines. Eurasia suffered the largest drop.
  • Several countries with histories of more democratic practices have experienced serious deterioration over the past five years. Greece has fallen by 21 points on a 100-point scale since 2010, as existing structural problems were exacerbated by the economic crisis and related political pressures. Large five-year drops were also recorded in Thailand (13 points), Ecuador (12), Turkey (11), Hong Kong (9), Honduras (7), Hungary (7), and Serbia (7).
  • The world’s 10 worst-rated countries and territories were Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. The Russian-occupied territory of Crimea was assessed separately for the first time in this edition.
  • The United States’ score fell by one point due to detentions, harassment, and rough treatment of journalists by police during protests in Ferguson, Missouri.
  • Only 5 per cent of the Asia-Pacific region had access to free media in 2014
  • Europe still enjoys the highest level of press freedom, although the regional average score has registered the world’s second-largest net decline over the past 10 years.
  • Norway and Sweden were rated the world’s top-performing countries.

Free House’s findings fall in line with Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index, which measures the freedom of information and journalists in 160 countries around the world.

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