Freedom of the Press

Freedom of the Press 2002

Although the terrorist attacks of September 11 and the ensuing war on terrorism tested conditions for the media in a variety of ways, press freedom emerged intact by the end of 2001. This past year saw slight overall gains for press freedom as measured by the Freedom House ratings, which categorize countries as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free. In 2001, a higher number of countries, 75 (40%) out of 187 surveyed, rated Free than at any time in the past decade, improving upon last year’s total of 72. The number of countries rated Not Free, 61 (33%), is the lowest since 1996. Fifty countries (27%) are rated Partly Free in the current survey.

Significant improvements, as registered by a shift in category, outweighed significant declines during 2001. Four countries - Cape Verde, Ghana, Peru, and Vanuatu - moved up in category from Partly Free to Free, while Congo (Brazzaville) and Niger moved up from Not Free to Partly Free. There were only three negative category changes; Mongolia moved down from Free to Partly Free, and Bangladesh and Haiti moved down from Partly Free to Not Free.

Countries where press freedom markedly improved during 2001 represent diverse regions of the world. What most of them had in common, however, were recent changes in regime, in some cases effected at least in part by the work of independent journalists, that ushered in governments with a greater respect for civil liberties and the rule of law. In Ghana, a newly elected legislature supported constitutional guarantees of freedom of expression by unanimously repealing criminal libel and sedition laws, which had been used to imprison many journalists in years past. The news media in Peru gained from democratically-elected President Alejandro Toledo's efforts to restore the credibility and fairness of government. Numerous journalists who had been imprisoned for years were released, while the public ombudsman called for the repeal of "insult laws" under which many journalists had been charged with defamation. In Vanuatu, a new administration permits criticism of the government on state-run broadcasting. In addition, the prime minister allowed a British citizen, publisher of the island's only independent newspaper, to return after being deported by the previous government.

In two African countries, changes affecting the media in 2001 led to an improved rating of Partly Free. A new constitution adopted in September by the provisional parliament of Congo (Brazzaville) significantly improved the status of the news media and journalists by guaranteeing the basic right of press freedom. In addition, the 1996 Press Law was amended to no longer require prison terms for those convicted of defamation. In Niger, an overall decline in the number of press freedom violations during the year, coupled with the establishment of a Press Center in the capital of Niamey, pushed its rating upward in 2001.

Negative trends throughout the year led to three category downgrades. In Mongolia, indirect harassment of the press though libel lawsuits and tax audits was enough to push its rating into the Partly Free category. Bangladesh and Haiti were downgraded from Partly Free to Not Free this year. In both countries, the overt harassment of the press, tacitly supported and sometimes openly encouraged by the government or ruling party, increased in 2001.  Independent radio stations and newspapers in Haiti that criticized the government were targets of official intimidation and of orchestrated attacks by supporters of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide. In addition, the president was accused of stalling investigations into the murders of several journalists. In Bangladesh, efforts by government leaders, political party activists, and others to intimidate journalists who were targeted as a result of their reporting frequently occurred, and the number of violent attacks against journalists increased throughout the year. Such crimes have remained largely unpunished, primarily because of the links between the perpetrators and the two dominant political parties. In November, the new government arrested and began a treason investigation against leading journalist Shahriar Kabir after he filmed a documentary about Hindus who fled to India to escape post-election violence and intimidation. A particularly worrying factor in both of these countries is that there appears to be state-directed support for actions that threaten the safety of journalists and thus the independence of the press.

Events in 2001 focused attention on the Islamic world. An examination of countries that have majority Muslim populations demonstrates that in most, the media are Not Free. Out of 46 such countries, only one - Mali - has a free press. Fourteen (30%) have media that are Partly Free, while in 31 (67%) the media are Not Free. Given the importance of the press in shaping public attitudes towards one’s own government, as well as towards the actions of globally significant actors such as the United States or the Al-Qaida terrorist network, these figures deserve further attention.

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Freedom of the Press 2002 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