Posted on Tue, Apr. 29, 2008
By BARRY SCHWEID
AP Diplomatic Writer
Worldwide, the environment for journalists grew more hostile last year,
extending a six-year downturn, researchers reported Tuesday.
Setbacks for press freedom outnumbered advances 2-to-1 across the globe,
although the Internet and blogs helped slow the decline, particularly in
Iran, reported Freedom House, a nonprofit organization that released the
report in advance of World Press Freedom Day on Saturday.
"There have been repeated crackdowns in the past few years and Iran is
on the cusp of the bottom-performing category, but kept out by these
forms of expression," said Karlin Karlekar, senior researcher for
Iraq, meanwhile, again was a disappointment. "There hasn't been the
improvement in Iraq one hoped for several years ago," the researcher
said. "One of the reasons given for the invasion was to bring democracy
to Iraq. The democracy that has been established is highly problematic."
Still, the U.S.-backed country was not listed among the worst countries
for press freedom. The worst-rated country was North Korea, while Burma
was second with a worsening crackdown in the media. Cuba, Libya,
Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Belarus, Zimbabwe and Equatorial Guinea were
also among the worst-rated.
Since media played a key role covering coups and contested elections in
such countries as Pakistan, Bangladesh and Georgia, journalists became
prime targets of government crackdowns, according to the report.
"For every step forward in press freedom last year there were two steps
back," said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, in a
statement accompanying the report. "When press freedom is in retreat it
is an ominous sign that restrictions on other freedoms may soon follow."
And yet, journalists were credited with pushing the boundaries set by
authorities. In Egypt, for instance, their increased willingness to
cross "red lines" was cited as boosting the country into the partly free
category from the not-free group.
Violence against journalists was cited in a wide range of countries,
including Mexico, Russia and the Philippines.
Abuse of libel laws increased in a number of countries, particularly Africa.
The region of the former Soviet Union, including Russia, recorded the
largest region-wide setback, including declines in press freedom in
Georgia, Kyrgyzstan and several Central European countries.
Western Europe again had the highest level of press freedom in the
world, although declines were registered in Portugal, Malta and Turkey.
Of 195 countries and territories rated, 72 were cited as free, 59 as
partly free and 64 as not free.