WASHINGTON: World press freedom has hit its lowest level in a decade, amid regression in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine, and U.S. efforts to curb national security reporting, a survey showed Thursday.
The report by Freedom House, which has been conducting annual surveys since 1980, found that the share of the world’s population with media rated “free” remained at 14 percent in 2013, or only one in seven people.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of the world population lived in areas where the media was “not free” and 42 percent in places where press was “partly free,” the Freedom of the Press 2014 report said.
“The overall trends are definitely negative,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report.
Karlekar said press freedom is under attack in many regions of the world.
“We saw a real focus on ‘attacking the messenger,'” she told a news conference, which included “deliberate targeting of foreign journalists” in many countries.
“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 said.
Of the 197 countries and territories evaluated in 2013, Freedom House found 63 rated “free,” 68 rated “partly free” and 66 “not free.”
The report expressed concern on use of new technologies by authoritarian governments to filter online content and to monitor the activities of reports.
“The year’s declines were driven by the desire of governments — particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments — to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media,” the report stated.
The average global score used in the report declined to its lowest level since 2004, and the percentage of people living with a free news media fell to its lowest point since 1996, the report said.
The population figures are due in part to the impact of China, rated “not free,” and India, “partly free.” Those two countries account for more than a third of the world’s population.
The countries are rated on a scale of zero to 100, with the lowest scores indicating the least restrictions, or freest media.
The US remained in the ranks of countries with a “free” press, but fell in global rankings.
The United States saw its ranking decline three points to 21, the report said, citing a “limited willingness of high-level government officials to provide access and information to members of the press.”
The report also cited an increase in the United States in the number of information requests denied, and the targeting of journalists in criminal investigations.
The top-ranked countries for press freedom were the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, and the lowest was North Korea, which ranked just behind Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan, the report said.
Karlekar said the worst eight countries — which included Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Belarus and Eritrea including the lowest-ranked three — were “black holes for freedom of information” with little access to information and difficult conditions for journalists.
Countries downgraded to “not free” were Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia.
Other countries whose score showed significant declines included Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Freedom House said China and Russia continued to maintain a tight grip on locally based print and broadcast media, while also attempting to control the independent views in blogs or by foreign news sources. Both countries introduced additional legal measures to penalize online speech in 2013.
The group said journalists were attacked in 2013 in Ukraine, Turkey and Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Brazil, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Jordan, and Uganda.
On the positive side, 11 countries improved their rankings including eight in sub-Saharan Africa. Ivory Coast was upgraded from “not free” to “partly free.”