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Restrictions on press freedom intensifying, concludes Freedom House in "2010 Freedom of the Press" study

(Freedom House/IFEX) - Washington - April 29, 2010 - Global press freedom declined in 2009, with setbacks registered in almost every region of the world, according a Freedom House study released today. The study, Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence, reported that press freedom declined for the eighth consecutive year, producing a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a free press. Among the report's key findings:

• Significant declines outnumbered gains by a 2-to-1 margin. Notable regional declines were registered in Sub-Saharan Africa and Latin America, as well as the Middle East.
• Declines in important emerging democracies demonstrate the fragility of press freedom in such environments. Namibia and South Africa, two of the new democracies, dropped from Free to Partly Free. Worrying declines were also registered in Mexico, the Philippines, and Senegal.
• The only region to show overall improvement was Asia-Pacific, spurred by notable gains in South Asia that included status changes in Bangladesh and Bhutan from Not Free to Partly Free and a numerical score jump for the Maldives.
• Governments in China, Russia, Venezuela, and others have been systematically encroaching on the comparatively free environment of the internet and new media. Sophisticated techniques are being used to censor and block access to particular types of information, to flood the internet with antidemocratic, nationalistic views, and to provide broad surveillance of citizen activity.
• Journalists are increasingly the victims of assault and murder, a trend fueled by impunity for past crimes.

"Freedom of expression is fundamental to all other freedoms. Rule of law, fair elections, minority rights, freedom of association, and accountable government all depend on an independent press which can fulfill its watchdog function," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House. "This is why these findings are so utterly disturbing. When the Iranian Revolutionary Guards torture a journalist, or Communist authorities in China imprison a blogger, or criminal elements in Russia assassinate yet another investigative reporter, it sends a clear message that every person fighting for basic rights is vulnerable to a similar fate."

While a range of restrictive laws and violence against journalists continue to hamper media freedom, additional reasons for the global decline include the unique pressures placed on media in countries in the midst of political conflict, as well as intensified constraints on internet freedom. The globalization of censorship by countries such as China and international bodies such as the Organization of the Islamic Conference poses an additional threat to freedom of expression, as does the increasingly worrisome phenomenon of "libel tourism" centered on the United Kingdom.

30-Year Trends

In the 30 years since Freedom House began measuring global media freedom, the landscape has changed considerably:
• In 1980, media freedom was concentrated in Western Europe; only 22 percent of the world's countries enjoyed a rating of Free, while 53 percent were Not Free.
• By 1990, the share of Not Free countries had declined to 47 percent; by 2000, it was just 35 percent.
• Over the past decade, the positive momentum that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall has stalled, and in some cases has been reversed. For the past eight years, there have been gradual declines on a global scale, with the most pronounced setbacks taking place in Latin America and the former Soviet Union.

"Unfortunately, the positive changes seen in earlier decades have not been consolidated," noted Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study. "While the media landscape around the world has opened considerably - due in part to the impact of privately owned and satellite broadcast media and the internet - both governments and non-state actors have found new ways to restrict the independence of the media and the free flow of information."

"The steps backwards taken by a number of the new democracies are particularly disturbing," said Karlekar, citing the declines in Namibia, the Philippines, Senegal, and South Africa as examples. "Journalists in many countries cannot do their job without fear of repercussions."

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