Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2009

Restrictive laws and physical attacks fuel further declines

Global declines in press freedom continued in 2008, with negative trends outweighing positive movements in every region, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa. This marked the seventh straight year of overall deterioration. Improvements in a small number of countries—including bright spots in parts of South Asia and Africa—were overshadowed by a continued, relentless assault on independent news media by a wide range of actors, in both authoritarian states and countries with very open media environments. The pattern of decline in what has been called the “first freedom” presents worrying implications for democratic progress as a whole, as journalists face an uphill battle in their efforts to hold officials and other powerful figures accountable, and media outlets’ ability to contribute to greater transparency is compromised. Given the current economic climate, which is certain to place a further strain on media sustainability and diversity in rich and poor countries alike, pressures on media freedom are now looming from all angles and are increasingly threatening the considerable gains of the past quarter-century.

Press freedom suffered in a number of Free media environments in 2008, as Israel, Italy, and Hong Kong all slipped into the Partly Free category and numerical declines were seen in Taiwan. Setbacks also occurred in a number of influential countries, many of which had already been on downward trajectories. Mexico and Senegal showed the largest numerical drops, and substantial negative trends were apparent elsewhere in the Americas (Bolivia and Ecuador) and in Asia (Afghanistan and Sri Lanka). Continued declines in Russia marked the steady closing of what had previously been a much freer media space. Press freedom in a number of influential states, including China and Iran remained tightly restricted, despite the hope offered by the internet and other forms of new media. The existence and use of repressive legislation against journalists and media outlets is a key factor behind global declines, as are the persistent threat of physical harassment and attacks against reporters and the related problem of impunity for past cases of abuse.

Of the 195 countries and territories assessed in the latest survey, which covers calendar year 2008, 70 (36 percent) were rated Free, 61 (31 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 64 (33 percent) were rated Not Free. This represented a modest decline from the last survey, which covered the year 2007: 72 Free, 59 Partly Free, and 64 Not Free countries and territories. The findings for the year 2008 also represent a negative shift from the survey results of seven years ago, which represented the last recent high point of press freedom.

In terms of population, the survey found that only 17 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 41 percent have a Partly Free press and 42 percent have a Not Free press. These figures are notably affected by two countries—China, with a Not Free status, and India, with a Partly Free status—which together account for more than two billion of the world’s six billion people. The percentage of those enjoying Free media in 2008 declined, while the percentage of people who lived in countries with a Partly Free media environment expanded slightly, as four countries slipped into the Partly Free category.

The overall level of press freedom worldwide, as measured by the global average score, worsened slightly in 2008, contributing to a seven-year downward trend. The averages for the legal, political, and economic categories all worsened as well, with the political category showing the largest decline.

As demonstrated by the score movements, there were few dramatic openings or closures in the world’s media environments—changes that are typically seen in cases of coups, new governments, or serious political conflicts. However, there were significant movements, in some cases a continuation of past trends, in a large number of countries. In terms of countries whose score shifted by three or more points in 2008, declines outnumbered gains by a 2-to-1 margin.

The year featured no positive regional trends, with declines predominating in every part of the world. The largest regionwide declines were seen in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa, while smaller negative trends were apparent in the Americas, Asia-Pacific, sub-Saharan Africa, and Western Europe.

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Freedom of the Press 2009 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