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The fragile state of media freedom in Latin America

(Freedom House/IFEX) - 4 June 2012 - The following is a Freedom House Freedom at Issue blog item:

By Karin Deutsch Karlekar
Project Director of "Freedom of the Press"

The current state of media freedom in Latin America was driven home in early May, when three journalists were murdered in Mexico within a week of World Press Freedom Day. This dramatic example underscores a larger trend identified by Freedom House in the recently released Freedom of the Press 2012 report, which noted that a range of negative developments over the past decade have left media freedom on the defensive in much of Central and South America.

The Americas is the second most open region in terms of media freedom worldwide, with 15 countries (43 percent) rated Free, 16 (46 percent) rated Partly Free, and 4 (11 percent) rated Not Free. However, these figures are significantly influenced by the open media environments of North America and much of the Caribbean, which tend to offset the less rosy picture in Central and South America. In Hispanic America, meaning the Spanish- and Portuguese-speaking parts of the region, only 3 (15 percent) of the countries were rated Free, and just 1.5 percent of the population lived in Free media environments.

Also worrying are the trends over time. Press freedom blossomed in the Americas in the 1990s, as military governments gave way to civilian regimes, but the region has seen considerable backsliding during the past decade. Violence against journalists has increased, legal cases have been used to intimidate critical voices, and state funding and advertising have been directed toward progovernment media outlets while oppositionist outlets have been shuttered by regulatory controls and other forms of harassment. In each of the past five years, the regional average score for the Americas has declined. It is the only region globally to have exhibited such a pattern.

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