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Press Freedom Registers Slight Gain Despite Terrorism and War
In a major study released today, Freedom House finds that the challenge posed by the terrorist attacks on September 11 and the resulting war on terrorism did not lead to major setbacks in press freedom in 2001.
The entire report can be found online.
Although there were initial fears of restrictions on media covering the war in Afghanistan, Freedom House's annual global survey of press freedom found only modest evidence of such limitations.
"Some laws adopted by democratic states have restricted access to information, but not press freedom per se," said Leonard R. Sussman, Freedom House's senior scholar in international communications and author of the study's thematic essay. Despite restrictions, he concluded that "press reporting of the war in Afghanistan has been robust, from battlefield accounts to analyses of future strategy."
This year's survey is dedicated to the memory and spirit of Daniel Pearl, the American Wall Street Journal reporter brutally murdered in January 2002 by Islamic radicals in Pakistan.
Overall, Freedom House registered slight gains for press freedom since its last study.
Out of 186 countries surveyed in 2001, 75 (40%, representing 22% of the world's population) are considered Free, with no significant restrictions on the news media; 50 countries (27%, or 40% of the global population) are rated Partly Free and are characterized by some media restrictions; 61 countries (33%, or 38% of the world's population) are rated Not Free, characterized by state control or other obstacles to a free press.
Out of 187 countries surveyed in 2000, 72 were Free, 53 were Partly Free, and 62 were Not Free.
Notable improvements in press freedom were registered in a number of countries, especially in those with new governments that demonstrated greater respect for civil liberties and the rule of law. Ghana, Peru, and Vanuatu all moved from Partly Free to Free after undergoing regime changes.
Three countries received category downgrades. Mongolia moved from Free to Partly Free due to indirect harassment of the press through libel lawsuits and tax audits. Bangladesh and Haiti moved from Partly Free to Not Free due to overt harassment of the press, sometimes with the open encouragement of the government.
Post September 11 Developments
While press freedom remained relatively intact throughout the world in 2001, some developments in the wake of the September 11 terrorist attacks carry potential negative consequences for the press. Among the developments:
- The amendment of Jordan's penal code that would subject journalists to prison terms for publishing material that "could breach national unity, divide the population, or damage the image and reputation of the state."
- Saudi Arabia's decision to require all Internet service providers to keep records of all Internet users in order to track access to forbidden web sites.
- The tightening of freedom of information laws in the United States, which allow the withholding of information deemed detrimental to "institutional, commercial, and personal privacy interests."
- Added powers given to British police to monitor Internet, e-mail, and telephone conversations.
- Passage of Canada's "Law C-36," authorizing increased surveillance of the Internet, e-mail, and telephone conversations.
- New laws in France effectively making encryption of electronic messages an offense.
- A new German anti-terrorist law granting intelligence services the right to access stored telecommunications data and trace the origins of e-mail.
Press Freedom Regional Trends
Africa: Of 53 African countries, 8 (15%) are rated Free, 17 (32%) Partly Free 15, and 28 (53%) Not Free. A reduction in violence against journalists in Algeria, Cote d'Ivoire, and Sierra Leone accounted for positive trends on the continent. However, the passage of repressive press laws in Rwanda and a clampdown on all independent journalists and all forms of criticism against President Robert Mugabe of Zimbabwe counterbalanced gains in press freedom.
Asia: Of 24 Asian countries, 5 (21%) are rated Free, 5 (21%) Partly Free, and 13 (54%) Not Free (Afghanistan was not rated in 2001, accounting for the 5 percent discrepancy in the percentage total). In Sri Lanka, the withdrawal of emergency regulations covering media coverage of the civil war resulted in a notable improvement in press freedom. However, events in Laos and Indonesia offset regional gains. A new law requiring favorable coverage of the government was introduced in Laos, while in Indonesia, police and security forces increasingly assaulted journalists. Radical Islamic groups in Indonesia also threatened reporters.
Western Europe: Of 21 European countries, 20 (95%) are rated Free. One country (5%), Turkey, is rated Partly Free.
Latin America: Of 33 Latin American countries, 19 (58%) are Free, 12 (36%) are Partly Free, and 2 (6%) are Not Free. Mexico, under the new stewardship of President Vicente Fox, enjoyed gains in press freedom. Conditions in Venezuela deteriorated after President Hugo Chavez and his government repeatedly attacked news media in speeches, and a court ruled that newspapers must state their political leanings.
Middle East: Of fourteen Middle Eastern nations, only one (7%), Israel, is rated Free. Two countries (14%), Jordan and Kuwait, are Partly Free, while eleven (79%) are Not Free. Some slight openings were noted in Saudi Arabia (Not Free) where the press appeared to have a freer hand in discussing the royal family and covering sensitive subjects such as unemployment and domestic violence. The Palestinian uprising took a toll on journalists, who suffered abuses and shootings by both Israeli and Palestinian security forces.
Eastern Europe and the NIS: Of the 27 countries of Eastern Europe and the Newly Independent States, 9 (33%) are rated Free, 11 (41%) are Partly Free, and 7 (26%) are Not Free. Notable improvements took place in Yugoslavia, where members of the political opposition and civil society found voices in state-owned media outlets. Russia and Ukraine received scores that, as in previous years, nearly placed both countries in the Not Free category. A state-owned gas company took control of Russia's major independent media group, Media-MOST, and closed independent newspapers. The brutal murder of Ukrainian journalist Heorihy Gongadze, in which President Leonid Kuchma was indirectly implicated, remained unsolved.
Pacific: Of the 13 nations in the Pacific, 11 (85%) are rated Free, and 2 (15%) Partly Free. Gains were registered in Fiji, where a notably freer press reported on allegations of official corruption. This followed the return of parliamentary democracy to the island nation after elections in September.
North America: Both Canada and the United States are rated Free, although press freedoms declined slightly in both countries in 2001. The impact of the September 11 attacks limited media access and coverage somewhat in the United States, while increasing concentration of media ownership raised concern in Canada.
The entire Survey of Press Freedom, containing country-by-country reports, is available online.
Freedom House, a non-profit, non-partisan organization, monitors political rights and civil liberties worldwide. In addition to its annual Survey of Press Freedom, it also publishes Freedom in the World, an annual global survey measuring freedom in every country, and Nations in Transit, a comprehensive comparative survey of the post-Communist states of Eastern and Central Europe and the former Soviet Union.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports democratic change, monitors the status of freedom around the world, and advocates for democracy and human rights.