Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2003

Press freedom came under increasing pressure and suffered a notable decline in 2002.  Journalists' ability to report freely was hindered by ongoing political conflict and insurgencies, as well as by heightened government-directed restrictions on media outlets. While a number of authoritarian regimes continued to stifle independent media, a particularly worrying trend during the year was that in many cases, intimidation and harassment of the press was perpetrated or condoned by nominally democratic governments.

The annual Freedom House survey of press freedom provides a numerical rating for each country as well as categorizing the level of press freedom in each country as "Free," "Partly Free," or "Not Free." Ratings are determined on the basis of an examination of three broad categories: the legal environment in which media operate, political influences on reporting and access to information, and economic pressures on content and the dissemination of news.

In 2002, fully 78 countries (41 percent) out of 193 surveyed were rated Free, while 47 (24 percent) were rated Partly Free and 68 (35 percent) were rated Not Free. The year saw a marked deterioration in press freedom worldwide, as measured by a shift in category. Overall, 4 countries (Dominican Republic, Panama, Peru, and Thailand) declined from Free to Partly Free, while 7 countries (Armenia, Colombia, Jordan, Nepal, Russia, Ukraine, and Venezuela) declined from Partly Free to Not Free. Only 2 countries registered a positive category shift in 2002 - Fiji moved up from Partly Free to Free, and Sri Lanka improved from Not Free to Partly Free.

In terms of population, 20 percent of the world's population lives in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 38 percent have a Partly Free press and 42 percent have a Not Free press. This situation represents a significant decline during the course of the past year, as the proportion of the world's population in the Not Free category increased by four percentage points from last year.

Smaller numerical declines were registered in a number of other states where media outlets and journalists were subjected to a wide range of legal, political, and economic pressures. Other key trends noted in 2002 include:

  • Marked declines in the Americas and Eurasia
  • The heightened threat to press freedom posed by political conflict and armed insurgencies
  • An increased use of politically motivated lawsuits and other criminal charges to harass the media
  • The threat to diversity of media ownership posed by state takeovers or consolidation of private ownership
  • A decline in press freedom in a number of electoral democracies

This year's findings demonstrate that the media remain vulnerable, even in many of the world's nominally democratic countries. These governments' use of a wide variety of methods to intimidate the press continues to hinder the ability of journalists to provide independent scrutiny and commentary, which is critically important if governments are to remain accountable.

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Freedom of the Press 2003 Release Materials:

Note: Reports with asterisks in the following list are for territories rather than countries.

Americas

Asia-Pacific

Eurasia

Europe

Middle East and North Africa

Sub-Saharan Africa