Freedom of the Press 2017: Frequently Asked Questions

What is Freedom of the Press?

Freedom of the Press is Freedom House’s annual report on media independence around the world. Published since 1980, Freedom of the Press provides numerical scores and country narratives evaluating the legal environment for the media, political pressures that influence reporting, and economic factors that affect access to news and information. Freedom of the Press assesses the degree of print, broadcast, and digital media freedom in 199 countries and territories. The most comprehensive data set available on global media freedom, it serves as a key resource for policymakers, international institutions, journalists, activists, and scholars worldwide.

What is the report’s coverage period?

Each annual edition of Freedom of the Press assesses conditions and events in the previous calendar year, meaning Freedom of the Press 2017 covers the period from January 1, 2016, through December 31, 2016. 

How far back in time does Freedom of the Press go?

The first edition covered the year 1979.

Where can I view all the past years’ scores? 

The historical data are available in Excel format on the Freedom of the Press landing page. 

What topics do the scores cover?

Freedom of the Press covers the legal, political, and economic environments for the press. The Methodology document used by analysts is the best summary of the issues covered.

Does Freedom of the Press cover the internet?

Freedom of the Press covers all web-based activity—including websites, messaging apps, social networks, and other communication platforms—that is directly related to the production and/or distribution of news and news-related information. It does not cover an individual’s experience of using the internet for other communications purposes. For a comprehensive analysis of internet freedom, including obstacles to access, limits on content, and violations of user rights, refer to our Freedom on the Net report.

What is the best and worst score a country or territory can get?

The best possible score is 0. The worst possible score is 100. In the 2017 edition, no countries received these scores.

How do the analysts decide on scores?

The analyst grants a country/territory a certain number of points on each of the scoring indicators based on the conditions and events within that country/territory during the coverage period. Analysts are guided by the 23 methodology questions (see Methodology) as well as supplemental questions designed to provide more detail on the types of issues covered under that indicator. The analyst’s proposed scores are discussed and defended at annual review meetings, organized by region and attended by Freedom House staff and a panel of expert advisers. The final scores represent the consensus of the analysts, staff, and advisers, and are intended to be comparable from year to year and across countries and regions.

How many people are involved in the analysis process?

This year there were more than 90 lead country/territory analysts and nearly 20 expert advisers. Freedom House staff provide input, and analysts consult with contacts in the countries under review.

What do you mean by “Countries to Watch”?

Freedom House identified 10 countries whose press freedom trajectories are ripe for change over the next year, designated “Countries to Watch.”  In some cases the momentum is positive; others may be on the cusp of serious declines in press freedom. The listed countries are highly diverse, and are not intended to be compared against one another.

How do you guard against political bias in the analysis process?

Freedom House thoroughly vets analysts prior to contracting them in order to reduce political bias or a lack of methodological rigor as much as possible. Once selected, analysts are asked to ground any proposed score changes in the real-world events of the year under review, typically as reported in reputable news media or by credible nongovernmental organizations. After analysts submit their proposed scores and draft narrative reports, all submissions are fully reviewed and discussed by fellow analysts, Freedom House staff, and outside experts, and compared with the scores of other countries in the region and the world to ensure that they are rational and proportional.

Does the index judge non-Western countries according to Western values?

The Freedom of the Press methodology is based on Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states:

"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers."

All states, from the most democratic to the most authoritarian, are committed to this doctrine through the UN system. To deny it is to deny the universality of basic human rights. We seek to assess media freedom using common criteria for all settings, in poor and rich countries as well as in countries of various ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. We recognize that cultural distinctions or economic underdevelopment may affect the character or volume of news flows within a country, but these and other differences are not acceptable explanations for infringements like centralized control of the content of news and information. 

Why does Freedom of the Press cover certain territories separately and not others?

Freedom House covers certain related and disputed territories separately from independent countries. In the 2017 edition, it covered four such territories. Freedom House determines which territories to cover in Freedom of the Press based on the following criteria:

  • Whether the territory is governed separately from the rest of the relevant country or countries, either de jure or de facto.
  • Whether conditions on the ground for press freedom are significantly different from those in the rest of the relevant country or countries, meaning a separate assessment is likely to yield different results.
  • Whether the territory is the subject of enduring popular or diplomatic pressure for autonomy, independence, or incorporation into another country.
  • Whether the territory’s boundaries are sufficiently stable to allow an assessment of conditions for the year under review, and whether they can be expected to remain stable in future years so that year-on-year comparisons are possible.
  • Whether the territory is large and/or politically significant.
  • Whether there is sufficient information available from the territory to allow for a meaningful analysis.

Assessment of a territory does not imply an endorsement of any side in a dispute over sovereignty. Freedom House typically takes no position on these disputes as such, focusing instead on the level of freedom in a given geographical area.