Saturday, May 2, 2009

Press freedom in dire straits the world over, U.N. expresses concern for journalists

Sunday May 3 is World Press Freedom Day.

Only 17 per cent of the world's population lives with a press completely free of government/party control.

According to a Freedom House survey released today, the times grew tougher for press freedom across the world in 2008 for a seventh year in a row.

The muzzling of the press is "particularly worrisome" in countries of "East Asia, the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa."

The worst rated countries continue to include Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan. In the Americas, 2008 saw a downward spiral of press freedom in Mexico, Bolivia, Ecuador, Guatemala and Nicaragua.

Of 195 countries/territories surveyed,
70 (36 percent) are rated Free, 61 (31 percent) are rated Partly Free and 64 (33 percent) are rated Not Free. This represents a modest decline from the 2008 survey in which 72 countries and territories were Free, 59 Partly Free and 64 Not Free.
Must-see details here.

In response, United Nations secretary-general Ban Ki-Moon spoke (via an aide) in concern for journalists in New York today.
[A]ttacks on journalists remain shockingly high in number and . . . murder and detention are only the most blatant ways that journalists are silenced. Often . . . fear leads journalists to censor themselves. . . . [S]ome Governments are suppressing Internet access and the work of Internet-based journalists and others using the “new media”. . . .

Let us renew our resolve to protect their freedom and safety . . . and . . . proclaim again our commitment to free and independent media as an essential agent of human rights, development and peace.
How many journalists were killed in harness? 41 in 2008, according to the New York based Committee to Protect Journalists. And 11 in 2009 so far.

According to the CPJ "some 45 percent of all media workers jailed worldwide are bloggers," to which Mr. Ban said,
I urge all governments to respect the rights of these citizen journalists, who may lack the legal resources or political connections that might assist them in gaining their freedom.
But there's a silver lining, as always. While the Freedom House study records "twice as many losses [for press freedom] as gains in 2008, with declines and stagnation in East Asia of particular concern" it also reports some regions have made good on their history.
The Maldives made the study's largest jump, moving to the Partly Free category with the adoption of a new constitution protecting freedom of expression and the release of a prominent journalist from life imprisonment. Guyana regained its Free rating with fewer attacks on journalists and a government decision to lift a boycott on advertising in the main independent newspaper.

Ban Ki-Moon portrait courtesy of the United Nations

Also see: "Public journalism has created an extra-press authority"
And: Criminal charge slapped on Orkut activist in India
And: Asia's social media use zooms
And: Can citizen journalism restore a sense of autonomy?
And: Pulitzers, a humbling experience for Internet journalists
And finally: A sustainable model emerges: Use collective intelligence but fact-check with journalists

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