Freedom of the press around the globe is at its lowest level in a decade.
According to a report by the Freedom House, the decline was driven mainly by government obstruction of the press in the Middle East, Eastern Europe, East Africa and the deterioration of the relatively open media environment in the United States.
“We see declines in media freedom on a global level, driven by governments’ efforts to control the message and punish the messenger,” said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report.
Karlekar explained that 2013 was a turbulent time to be working as a journalist in some foreign nations. “In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists,” she said.
Overall, says the report, very little of the world’s people enjoy freedom of the press. Researchers at Freedom House only found that 14 percent of the global population has access to media categorized as “free” — or just one in seven people.
A plurality of the world’s population (44 percent) lives in a region with media that is “not free,” and 42 percent only have access to “partly free” media climate.
Countries are given a total press freedom score from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) on the basis of a set of 23 methodology questions divided into three subcategories, and are also given a category designation of “free,” “partly free,” or “not free.”
In part, for a nation’s press environment to qualify as “free” it must allow robust coverage of political news, guarantee the safety of journalists, restrain itself from intrusion in media affairs, and the press must not be subject to excessive legal or economic pressures.
Much of the year’s setbacks were a result of authoritarian governing bodies or politically fractured countries limiting access to unbiased press by harassing journalist covering sensitive stories, restricting foreign reporters, and monitoring the content of online news outlets and social media platforms.
This was the case in Russia and China when the countries either declined or refuse to renew visas of respected foreign journalists and in Egypt when the government detained a group of Al-Jazeera staff, accusing them of being involved in pro-terrorist activities.
In some countries private entities with close relationships to the government also played a role in suffocating free speech by editing stories and releasing discordant staff.
Although it is still rated as “free,” the United States experienced one of its most dramatic declines in the past decade.
Freedom House explained that the America experienced a negative shift, moving from 18 to 21 points due to the U.S. government’s attempt to control information flows — especially in regards to national security issues; intimidating journalists with lawsuits for protecting the identity of their sources, and revelations from Edward Snowden about intrusive National Security Agency (NSA) surveillance programs that included both the collection of Big Data from communication companies and the targeted wiretapping of media outlets.
The report also warned of the lack of media diversity in America, resulting both from poor economic conditions for the news industry and inadequate federal legislation ensuring source-protection.
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