Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2010

Broad setbacks to global media freedom

Global press freedom declined in 2009, with setbacks registered in nearly every region of the world. This marked the eighth straight year of overall deterioration, and produced a global landscape in which only one in six people live in countries with a Free press. These largely negative developments constitute the principal findings of Freedom of the Press 2010: A Global Survey of Media Independence, the latest edition of an annual index published by Freedom House since 1980.

The year was notable for intensified efforts by authoritarian regimes to place restrictions on all conduits for news and information. The trend included repression of print and broadcast journalism, but a growing focus on the internet and other new media was also apparent. While there were some positive developments, particularly in South Asia, significant declines were recorded in Latin America, sub-Saharan Africa, and the Middle East. Countries with largest downgrades included South Africa, Iran, Mexico, the Philippines, Senegal, and Guinea.

Threats have emerged both within and across state borders. China’s government introduced several new methods of internet censorship, and it remained a global leader in the jailing of journalists. Moreover, the Chinese authorities attempted to control expressions of dissent overseas, demanding that the organizers of foreign cultural gatherings remove speakers or works of art that they found objectionable. In another attempt to globalize censorship, the Organization of the Islamic Conference spearheaded a campaign aimed at embedding onerous anti-blasphemy language into international law.

In a year when significant declines outnumbered gains by a two-to-one margin, press freedom suffered setbacks even in Free media environments. In southern Africa, both Namibia and South Africa were reduced from Free to Partly Free status. Mexico and Senegal also showed notable deterioration, and substantial negative trends were apparent elsewhere in the Americas (Ecuador and Honduras) and in Asia (Fiji and the Philippines). Conditions for journalists in strategically important authoritarian states such as China and Russia remained extremely repressive, while Iran’s already highly controlled media space contracted further due to a crackdown on both old and new media in the wake of the flawed presidential election. By contrast, South Asia provided a glimmer of hope, with substantive improvements in several countries.

Of the 196 countries and territories assessed during calendar year 2009, 69 (35 percent) were rated Free, 64 (33 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 63 (32 percent) were rated Not Free. This represents a move toward the center compared with the survey covering 2008, which featured 70 Free, 61 Partly Free, and 64 Not Free countries and territories.

The survey found that only 16 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries with a Free press, while 44 percent have a Partly Free press and 40 percent live in Not Free environments. The population figures are significantly affected by two countries—China, with a Not Free status, and India, with a Partly Free status—that together account for more than two billion of the world’s roughly six billion people. The percentage of those enjoying Free media in 2009 declined to the lowest level since 1996, when Freedom House began incorporating population data into the findings of the survey.

Continue reading essay

Freedom of the Press 2010 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