In Global Press Freedom Slump, Some Countries Stand Out

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Poland, Turkey, Ethiopia, and Serbia were among the countries with the largest and most significant declines in the past year.

Conditions for press freedom worldwide continued to deteriorate in 2016, according to the latest edition of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. The global average score fell to 49.4 on a 100-point scale, and only 13 percent of the world’s population lives in countries whose media environments are designated Free.

Countries registering declines for the year again outnumbered those with gains. While some score changes were especially large, others were significant because of their deeper implications for the nature of the country’s press freedom environment.

The following were some of the most noteworthy—if not always the largest—gains and declines for 2016.

Gains:

  • Argentina improved due to a less hostile environment for the media under the Macri administration, including reductions in intimidation of journalists and government manipulation of the media through advertising.
  • Afghanistan improved due to recent legal changes that illustrate the current administration’s more favorable stance on media independence, as well as long-term growth in the diversity of private media, though the deteriorating security environment further restricted journalists’ ability to operate safely throughout the country.

Declines:

  • Democratic Republic of Congo declined due to developments related to delayed national elections and resulting protests, including a government decree that cut broadcasting signals to target critical outlets and an increase in attacks on and arrests of journalists.
  • Ethiopia declined due a crackdown on independent media throughout the year amid widespread protests, as well as the October declaration of a state of emergency that blocked access to media, including social media, and obstructed the work of journalists.
  • Hong Kong declined due to increased mainland interference in local media as well as multiple attacks on journalists during demonstrations.
  • Hungary declined because independent media have been squeezed out of the market, partly through the acquisition and creation of outlets by presumed government allies.
  • India declined due to violent reprisals against journalists as well as government blocking of internet service and halting of printing presses in the restive Kashmir Valley.
  • Israel declined due to unprecedented personal attacks by the prime minister on leading investigative journalists, which contributed to a hostile environment for the press.
  • Macedonia declined because the ruling party increased its control over the news cycle through a new television station, and due to a rise in physical obstruction of or attacks against journalists.
  • Malaysia declined due to the government’s legal, economic, and other pressure on independent outlets covering the 1MDB corruption scandal, one of which closed after authorities blocked its website.
  • Maldives declined as the government further tightened its control of the media, including through the passage of new legislation that criminalizes defamation. Combined with ongoing police harassment and arbitrary arrests, the law contributed to increased self-censorship among journalists.
  • Poland declined due to government intolerance toward independent or critical reporting, excessive political interference in the affairs of public media, and restrictions on speech regarding Polish history and identity, which have collectively contributed to increased self-censorship and polarization.
  • Serbia declined due to a heightened government campaign to discredit unfriendly media outlets and a purge of the staff of a provincial public broadcaster after the national ruling party won elections in the province.
  • Tanzania declined due to restrictive legislation, including the Cybercrime Act and the Media Services Act, and the resulting prosecution and imprisonment of journalists and bloggers.
  • Tunisia declined due to growing government hostility toward the media, illustrated by insults and verbal attacks against journalists and media institutions, and a weakening economy that resulted in layoffs or unpaid salaries for hundreds of journalists.
  • Turkey declined due to multiple repressive measures following the July coup attempt, including increased censorship, closures of critical and independent media outlets, mass cancelation of journalists’ licenses, and a sharp rise in arbitrary detentions of and violence against journalists.

Analyses and recommendations offered by the authors do not necessarily reflect those of Freedom House.

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