Freedom of the Press Research Methodology
Freedom of the Press Methodology
Freedom of the Press provides analytical reports and numerical scores for 199 countries and territories, continuing a process conducted by Freedom House since 1980. Each country and territory is given a total press freedom score from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) on the basis of 23 methodology questions divided into three subcategories. The total score determines the status designation of Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. The scores and reports included in Freedom of the Press 2017 cover events that took place between January 1, 2016, and December 31, 2016.
Freedom House assesses media freedom using common criteria for all settings, in poor and rich countries as well as in countries of varying ethnic, religious, and cultural backgrounds. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 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. While cultural distinctions or economic underdevelopment may affect the character or volume of news flows within a country or territory, these and other differences are not acceptable explanations for infringements such as centralized control of the content of news and information.
Research and Scoring Process
Freedom of the Press findings are determined through a multilayered process of analysis and evaluation by a team of regional experts and scholars. Through multiple stages of coding and review, the process emphasizes intellectual rigor and aims for consistent and unbiased judgments.
The research and scoring process involves more than 90 analysts—primarily external consultants—who draft the scores and country/territory reports. Analysts gather information from field research, professional contacts, reports from local and international nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), reports of governments and multilateral bodies, and domestic and international news media. We would particularly like to thank the other members of the International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX) network for providing detailed and timely analyses of press freedom violations in a variety of countries worldwide.
The scores are reviewed individually and on a comparative basis in a series of seven regional meetings involving analysts, a team of senior academic advisers, and Freedom House staff. These reviews are followed by cross-regional assessments in which an effort is made to ensure comparability and consistency in the findings across the world.
Through the years, we have refined and expanded our methodology. Recent modifications have aimed to capture changes in the news and information environment without altering the comparability of data since the project’s inception. For example, the methodology was modified to incorporate the role of digital media.
The level of press freedom in each country and territory is evaluated through 23 methodology questions divided into three broad categories: the legal environment, the political environment, and the economic environment. For each methodology question, a lower number of points is allotted for a more free situation, while a higher number of points is allotted for a less free environment. A country or territory’s final score (from 0 to 100) represents the total of the points allotted for each question. A total score of 0 to 30 results in a press freedom status of Free; 31 to 60 results in a status of Partly Free; and 61 to 100 indicates a status of Not Free.
The diverse nature of the methodology questions seeks to address the varied ways in which pressure can be placed on the flow of information and the ability of print, broadcast, and digital media to operate freely and without threat of repercussions. In short, we seek to provide a picture of the entire “enabling environment” in which the media operate. We also assess the diversity of the news and information available to the public in any given country or territory, from either local or transnational sources. Freedom of the Press is focused on the ability to provide and access news and information. It generally pertains to journalists and formal news outlets, whether print, broadcast, or online, but also includes less formal sources—such as blogs, social media, and text messages—when they serve as de facto news providers.
The legal environment category encompasses an examination of both the laws and regulations that could influence media content, and the extent to which they are used in practice to enable or restrict the media’s ability to operate. We assess the positive impact of legal and constitutional guarantees for freedom of expression; the potentially negative aspects of security legislation, the penal code, and other statutes; penalties for libel and defamation; the existence of and ability to use freedom of information legislation; the independence of the judiciary and official regulatory bodies; registration requirements for both media outlets and journalists; and the ability of journalists’ organizations to operate freely.
Under the political environment category, we evaluate the degree of political influence in the content of news media. Issues examined include the editorial independence of both state-owned and privately owned outlets; access to information and sources; official censorship and self-censorship; the vibrancy of the media and the diversity of news available within each country or territory; the ability of both foreign and local reporters to cover the news in person without obstacles or harassment; and reprisals against journalists or bloggers by the state or other actors, including arbitrary detention, violent assaults, and other forms of intimidation.
Our third category examines the economic environment for the media. This includes the structure of media ownership; transparency and concentration of ownership; the costs of establishing media as well as any impediments to news production and distribution; the selective withholding of advertising or subsidies by the state or other actors; the impact of corruption and bribery on content; and the extent to which the economic situation in a country or territory affects the development and sustainability of the media.
Methodology Questions and Bulleted Guidelines
A. LEGAL ENVIRONMENT (0–30 POINTS)
1. Do the constitution or other basic laws contain provisions designed to protect freedom of the press and of expression, and are they enforced? (0–6 points)
- Does the constitution contain language that provides for freedom of speech and of the press?
- Do the Supreme Court, attorney general, and other representatives of the higher judiciary support these rights?
- Does the judiciary obstruct the implementation of laws designed to uphold these freedoms?
- Do other high-ranking state or government representatives uphold legal protections for media freedom?
- Do high-level government leaders contribute to a hostile environment for the press, for example by engaging in repeated animosity toward or negative verbal rhetoric against the media?
- Are crimes that threaten press freedom prosecuted vigorously by authorities?
- Is there implicit impunity for those who commit crimes against journalists?
2. Do the penal code, security laws, or any other laws restrict reporting and are journalists or bloggers punished under these laws? (0–6 points)
- Are there restrictive press laws?
- Do laws restrict reporting on ethnic or religious issues, national security, or other sensitive topics?
- Are penalties for “irresponsible journalism” applied widely?
- Are restrictions on media freedom clearly defined, narrowly circumscribed, and proportional to a legitimate aim?
- Do the authorities restrict or otherwise impede legitimate press coverage in the name of national security interests?
- Are journalists or media owners regularly prosecuted or jailed as a result of what they write or broadcast?
- Are writers, commentators, or bloggers subject to imprisonment or other legal penalty for accessing or posting material on the internet?
- Is there excessive pressure on journalists to reveal sources, resulting in punishments such as jail sentences, fines, or contempt of court charges?
3. Are there penalties for libeling officials or the state and are they enforced? (0–3 points)
- Are public officials specially protected under insult or defamation laws?
- Are insult laws routinely used to shield officials’ conduct from public scrutiny?
- Is truth a defense to libel charges?
- Is there a legally mandated “right of reply” that overrides independent editorial control?
- Is libel a criminal rather than merely a civil offense?
- Are journalists or other news providers prosecuted and jailed for libel or defamation?
- Are excessive monetary fines routinely imposed on journalists or media outlets in civil libel cases in a partisan or prejudicial manner, with the intention of bankrupting the media outlet or deterring future criticism?
4. Is the judiciary independent and do courts judge cases concerning the media impartially? (0–3 points)
- Are members of the judiciary subject to excessive pressure from the executive branch?
- Are the rights to freedom of expression and information recognized as important among members of the judiciary?
- When judging cases concerning the media, do authorities act in a lawful and non-arbitrary manner on the basis of objective criteria?
- Are contempt of court charges filed against journalists who attempt to cover court proceedings or cases?
- Does the judiciary frequently impose gag orders or bans on coverage of legal cases?
5. Is Freedom of Information legislation in place and are journalists able to make use of it? (0–2 points)
- Are there laws guaranteeing access to government records and information?
- Is there enabling legislation and/or an administrative framework in place to make such laws usable in practice?
- Are restrictions to the right of access to information expressly and narrowly defined?
- Are journalists able to secure public records through clear administrative procedures in a timely manner and at a reasonable cost?
- Are public officials subject to prosecution if they illegally refuse to disclose state documents?
6. Can individuals or business entities legally establish and operate private media outlets without undue interference? (0–4 points)
- Are registration requirements to publish a newspaper or periodical unduly onerous or are they approved/rejected on partisan or prejudicial grounds?
- Is the process of licensing private broadcasters and assigning frequencies open, objective, and fair?
- Is there an independent regulatory body responsible for awarding licenses and distributing frequencies, or does the state control the allocation process?
- Does the state place extensive legal controls on the establishment of websites and ISPs?
- Do state or publicly funded media receive preferential legal treatment?
- Are nonprofit community broadcasters given distinct legal status?
- Are laws regulating media ownership impartially implemented?
7. Are media regulatory bodies, such as a broadcasting authority or national press or communications council, able to operate freely and independently? (0–2 points)
- Are there explicit legal guarantees protecting the independence and autonomy of any regulatory body from either political or commercial interference?
- Does the state or any other interest exercise undue influence over regulatory bodies through appointments or financial pressure?
- Is the appointments process to such bodies transparent and representative of different interests, and do representatives from the media have an adequate presence on such bodies?
- Are decisions taken by the regulatory body seen to be fair and apolitical?
- Are efforts by journalists and media outlets to establish self-regulatory mechanisms permitted and encouraged, and viewed as a preferable alternative to state-imposed regulation?
8. Is there freedom to become a journalist and to practice journalism, and can professional groups freely support journalists’ rights and interests? (0–4 points)
- Are journalists required by law to be licensed, and if so, is the licensing process conducted fairly and at reasonable cost?
- Must a journalist become a member of a particular union or professional organization in order to work legally?
- Must journalists have attended a particular school or have certain qualifications in order to practice journalism?
- Are visas or exit permits for journalists to travel abroad delayed or denied based on the individual’s reporting or professional affiliation?
- Are journalists’ or bloggers’ professional actions or means of communication subject to either electronic or physical surveillance with the object of interfering in their work or ascertaining their sources?
- May journalists and editors freely join associations to protect their interests and express their professional views?
- Are independent journalists’ organizations and other advocacy groups dedicated to their interests able to operate freely and comment on threats to or violations of press freedom?
B. POLITICAL ENVIRONMENT (0–40 POINTS)
1. To what extent are media outlets’ news and information content determined by the government or a particular partisan interest? (0–10 points)
- To what degree are journalists subject to editorial direction or pressure from the authorities or from private owners?
- Is hiring, promotion, and firing of journalists done in a nonpartisan and impartial manner? Are journalists subject to job loss because of what they write or broadcast?
- Is media coverage excessively partisan, with the majority of outlets consistently taking either a pro- or antigovernment line?
- Does the government have editorial control over state-run media outlets, or is there a public-service broadcaster that enjoys editorial independence?
- Does the opposition have access to state-owned media, particularly during election campaigns? Do state-owned outlets reflect the views of the entire political spectrum or do they provide only an official point of view?
- Does the government attempt to influence or manipulate online content, for example through propaganda sites, paid commentators, or bots on social media?
2. Is access to official or unofficial sources generally controlled? (0–2 points)
- Are the activities of government and other public institutions open to the press?
- Is there a “culture of secrecy” among public officials that limits their willingness to communicate with or grant access to journalists?
- Do authorities hold regular press conferences or other briefings to inform the media?
- Is access to officials granted equitably to all journalists regardless of their media outlet’s editorial line?
- Does the government influence or restrict access to unofficial sources (parties, unions, religious groups, etc.), particularly those that provide opposition viewpoints?
3. Is there official or unofficial censorship? (0–4 points)
- Is there an official censorship body?
- Are publications or broadcast programs subject to pre- or postpublication censorship?
- Are outlets forcibly closed or taken off the air as a result of what they publish or broadcast?
- Are online news outlets, social-media platforms, specific webpages, or pieces of content blocked, filtered, or taken down, either by the authorities or by intermediaries under official pressure?
- Is access to foreign news sources censored or otherwise restricted?
- Are certain contentious issues—such as official corruption, the role of the armed forces or the political opposition, human rights, or religion—officially off-limits to the media?
- Do authorities issue official guidelines or directives on coverage to media outlets?
4. Do journalists practice self-censorship? (0–4 points)
- Is there widespread self-censorship in the state-owned media? In the privately owned media?
- Are there unspoken rules that prevent a journalist from pursuing certain stories?
- Is there avoidance of subjects that can clearly lead to censorship or harm to the journalist or the institution?
- Is there censorship of or excessive interference in journalists’ stories by editors or managers?
- Are there restrictions on coverage by “gentlemen’s agreement,” club-like associations between journalists and officials, or traditions in the culture that restrict certain kinds of reporting?
5. Do people have access to media coverage and a range of news and information that is robust and reflects a diversity of viewpoints? (0–4 points)
- Does the public have access to a diverse selection of print, broadcast, and internet-based sources of information that represent a range of political and social viewpoints?
- Are people able to access a range of local and international news sources despite efforts to restrict the flow of information?
- Do media outlets represent diverse interests within society, for example through community radio or other locally focused news content?
- Do providers of news content cover political developments and provide scrutiny of government policies or actions by other powerful societal actors?
- Is there a tradition of vibrant coverage of potentially sensitive issues?
- Do journalists or bloggers pursue investigative news stories on issues such as corruption by the government or other powerful societal actors?
- NOTE: When scoring this question, please take into account the level of penetration of different types of media, e.g., print, broadcast, internet, foreign.
6. Are both local and foreign journalists able to cover the news freely and safely in terms of physical access and on-the-ground reporting? (0–6 points) [*Note: this question applies to conditions experienced by journalists, bloggers, or media outlets during the course of their work. See also note in B7.]
- To what extent are journalists harassed or attacked while attempting to gather news or cover events in person?
- Are certain geographical areas of the country off-limits to journalists?
- Does a war, insurgency, or similar situation in a country inhibit the operation of media?
- Do authorities require journalists working in danger zones to be “embedded”?
- Is there surveillance of foreign journalists working in the country?
- Are foreign journalists inhibited or barred by the need to secure visas or permits to report from or travel within the country?
- Are foreign journalists deported for reporting that challenges the authorities or other powerful interests?
7. Are journalists, bloggers, or media outlets subject to extralegal intimidation or physical violence by state authorities or any other actor as a result of their reporting? (0–10 points) [*Note: This question applies to conditions experienced by journalists, bloggers, or media outlets as a result of their work. See also note in B6.]
- Are journalists or bloggers subject to murder, injury, harassment, threats, abduction, arbitrary arrest and illegal detention, or torture in retaliation for their professional activities?
- Do journalists face reprisals in the form of trumped-up criminal charges with no explicit link to their work, such as weapons possession, drug possession, or tax evasion?
- Do armed militias, organized crime, insurgent groups, political or religious extremists, or other organizations regularly target journalists in response to their work?
- Have journalists fled the country or gone into hiding or exile to avoid such repercussions?
- Do journalists under threat from nonstate actors receive adequate protection from state authorities?
- Have media companies been targeted for physical attack or for the confiscation or destruction of property?
- Are there technical attacks—such as hacking or distributed denial-of-service (DDoS) attacks—on news outlets’ websites or on social-media accounts that are used to disseminate news?
C. ECONOMIC ENVIRONMENT (0–30 POINTS)
1. To what extent are media owned or controlled by the government, and does this influence their diversity of views? (0–6 points)
- To what extent do state-owned media dominate the country’s news and information system?
- Does the state have a monopoly on any news medium?
- Are there privately owned print, broadcast, or internet-based media outlets that carry their own news content?
- Do private news agencies provide content for print, broadcast, and online media?
- Do the state or public media enjoy editorial independence, and do they provide a range of diverse, nonpartisan viewpoints?
- NOTE: Consideration in the scoring should be given to the state/private balance in each medium, so that a country receives credit for a privately owned print sector, for example, even if there is a state monopoly on radio or television.
2. Is media ownership transparent, thus allowing consumers to judge the impartiality of the news? (0–3 points)
- Is it possible to ascertain the ownership structure of private media outlets?
- Do media owners hold official positions in the government or in political parties, and are these links intentionally concealed from the public?
- Do the formal owners of media outlets have unofficial ties to other powerful actors that compromise the outlets’ objectivity?
3. Is media ownership highly concentrated and does this influence diversity of content? (0–3 points)
- Are many news outlets owned or controlled by a few industrial or commercial conglomerates, whose resources allow them to suppress competition, limit diversity of content or viewpoints, and dominate the media landscape?
- Is there an excessive concentration of media ownership in the hands of private interests linked to state patronage or that of other powerful societal actors?
- Are there media monopolies, significant vertical integration (control over all aspects of news production and distribution), or substantial cross-ownership?
- Does the state actively and fairly enforce laws that limit concentration, monopolies, and cross-ownership?
4. Are there restrictions on the means of news production and distribution? (0–4 points)
- Is there a monopoly on the means of production and distribution, such as newsprint supplies, internet service, or telecommunications infrastructure?
- Are there private and nonstate printing presses?
- Are distribution intermediaries (newspaper kiosks, transmitters, cable and satellite companies, internet service providers, mobile-phone carriers) able to operate freely?
- Does the government exert pressure on independent media through the control of distribution facilities?
- Is there seizure or destruction of copies of newspapers, radio or television transmitters, satellite dishes, or production equipment?
- Do the authorities engage in wholesale blackouts of internet or mobile service, or interfere with such service through deliberate throttling and artificially slow connections?
- Does geography or poor infrastructure (roads, electricity, etc.) limit dissemination of print, broadcast, internet, or mobile-based news sources throughout the country?
5. Are there high costs associated with the establishment and operation of media outlets? (0–4 points)
- Are there excessive fees associated with obtaining a radio frequency, registering a newspaper, or establishing an ISP or website?
- Are the costs of purchasing paper, newsprint, or broadcasting equipment subject to high additional duties?
- Are media outlets subject to excessive taxation or other levies compared with other industries?
- Are there restrictions on foreign investment or non-investment foreign support/funding in the media?
6. Do the state or other actors try to control the media through allocation of advertising or subsidies? (0–3 points)
- Are state subsidies for privately run newspapers, broadcasters, or websites allocated fairly?
- Do subsidies from private owners distort the market, or are they intended to drive the competition out of business?
- Is government advertising allocated fairly and in an apolitical manner, i.e., on the basis of market share?
- Do state or private advertisers use the threat of reduced ad spending or actual boycotts to influence editorial decisions?
- Do the authorities or nonstate actors pressure companies to withhold advertising from certain media outlets?
7. Do journalists, bloggers, or media outlets receive payment from private or public sources whose design is to influence their journalistic content? (0–3 points)
- Do government officials or other actors pay journalists in order to cover or to avoid certain stories?
- Do journalists or media outlets accept payment to produce certain types of coverage (i.e. sponsored content, native advertising), and if so, do they clearly and lawfully identify such content?
- Are journalists often bribed?
- Are pay levels for journalists and other media professionals sufficiently high to discourage bribery?
- Do journalists or media outlets request bribes or other incentives in order to produce or withhold certain stories?
8. Does the overall economic situation negatively impact media outlets’ financial sustainability? (0–4 points)
- Are media overly dependent on the state, political parties, big business, or other influential political actors for funding?
- Is the economy so depressed or so dominated by the state that a private entrepreneur would find it difficult to create a financially sustainable news outlet?
- Is it possible for independent news outlets to remain financially viable primarily by generating revenue from advertising or subscriptions?
- Do foreign investors or donors play an unusually large role in helping to sustain media outlets?
- Are private owners subject to intense commercial pressures and competition, causing them to tailor or cut news coverage in order to remain financially viable?