Media freedom takes a hit
May 1st, 2013
12:03 PM ET

Media freedom takes a hit

By Karin Deutsch Karlekar, Special to CNN

Editor's note: Karin Deutsch Karlekar is project director of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. The views expressed are her own.

At first glance, it might seem counterintuitive that media freedom is on the decline. After all, in a world in which news is being produced by a broader range of professionals – as well as citizen journalists and bloggers – information is flowing at faster rates than ever before. And with news being transmitted through a greater variety of mediums – including newspapers, radio, television, the internet, mobile phones, flash drives, and social media – one might expect the level of media freedom worldwide to be improving, not worsening.

Yet Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report, which measures the environment journalists operate within as well as access to news and information, shows that the world’s media are often facing growing pressures in a range of political settings. An overall decline in the level of global media freedom – reversing last year’s improvement – was driven by declines in almost every region of the world. Reasons for the deterioration included the continued, increasingly sophis­ticated repression of independent journalism and new media by authoritarian regimes; the ripple effects of the European economic crisis and longer-term challenges to the financial sustainability of print media; and ongoing threats from nonstate actors such as radical Islamists and organized crime groups.

The reality is that there remain substantial challenges to independent media in an array of repressive environments. Influential authoritarian states such as Russia and China, who have long used a variety of techniques to maintain a tight grip on the press – including detaining, jailing, or bringing legal charges against critics, as well as closing down or otherwise censoring media outlets – have also expanded their attempts to control content online. Russia, which adopted additional restrictions on internet content in 2012, set a negative tone for the rest of Eurasia, where conditions remained largely grim. In China, the installation of a new Communist Party leadership didn’t produce any immediate relaxation of constraints on either traditional media or the internet. In fact, the Chinese regime, which boasts the world’s most intricate and elaborate system of media repression, stepped up its drive to limit both old and new sources of information through arrests and censorship in the face of considerable pushback from bloggers and journalists.

Meanwhile, in the Middle East and North Africa, the dramatic openings seen as part of the Arab Spring revolutions showed signs of either stalling – or outright reversal. Tunisia and Libya, which have shown some of the most promising movement towards democracy, largely maintained post-revolution openings, but have seen little positive movement since 2011.

Egypt, for its part, experienced significant backsliding, and the region as a whole had a net decline for the year, with negative trends also apparent in the Gulf.  The disheartening reversal there was driven by a constellation of factors, including officially tolerated campaigns to intimidate journalists, increased efforts to prosecute reporters and commentators for insulting the political leadership or defaming religion, and intensified polarization of the pro- and anti-Muslim Brotherhood press following the election of President Mohamed Morsy, which reduced the availability of balanced coverage.

The past year also brought a series of declines in both established and young democracies. Mali, which had been Africa’s freest media environment for a number of years, suffered the year’s largest decline in a decade due to media restrictions associated with a military coup and the capture of the northern half of the country by Islamist militants, which led to the closure of independent outlets and constraints on journalists’ ability to cover the news. Meanwhile, political unrest and financial pressures brought on by the European economic crisis took a toll on media freedom in several countries in Southern Europe, most notably Greece. Media suffered widespread staff cutbacks and some closures of press outlets, as well as heightened legal and physical harassment of journalists. This in turn led to a sense that the mainstream press was no longer able to perform its watchdog role and keep citizens adequately informed about election campaigns, austerity measures, corruption, and other critical issues.

As a result of declines in both authoritarian and democratic settings over the past several years, the proportion of the global population that enjoys a “Free” press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade. The report found that less than 14 percent of the world’s people – or roughly one in six – live in countries where coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures. Moreover, in the most recent five-year period, significant country declines have far outnumbered gains, suggesting that attempts to restrict press freedom are widespread and challenges to expanding media diversity and access to information remain considerable.

Given the importance of freedom of expression and access to information for the strength and vitality of democracy as a whole, these negative trends pose a considerable challenge for the many local and international actors who are committed to ensuring the free flow of information worldwide. Better resources, partnerships, and recognition of the problems a free press face are key to ensuring that the increasingly sophisticated methods used to restrict the free flow of information are not ultimately successful.

Post by:
Topics: Human Rights • Media

Next entry »
soundoff (33 Responses)
  1. rightospeak

    Media freedom ??? You have to be kidding. They are only free to serve their masters, the oligarchs.

    May 1, 2013 at 2:40 pm | Reply
    • Quigley

      Well said, rightospeak. How true that is!

      May 2, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
    • Necron99

      Well as long as they say what there masters tell them .. like obama and his demos and librts .

      May 2, 2013 at 8:23 pm | Reply
      • David in Tampa

        R U KIDDING? Rupert Murdoch is YOURS

        May 5, 2013 at 4:00 am |
    • paisan

      the shadow people . .they dont make the worlds wealthiest list

      May 3, 2013 at 8:57 am | Reply
    • David in Tampa

      All ya need to do to get informed news is read China Daily. They do not allow propaganda or distortions. On TV watch BBC. They do not allow propaganda and lies. Try Hardtalk.

      May 5, 2013 at 4:08 am | Reply
  2. "Freedom"

    Required reading on Freedom House:

    http://exiledonline.com/freedoms-just-another-word-for-fascism/

    "One of the most suspect gigs that Freedom House helped kickstart, in 1999, is the American Committee for Peace in Chechnya, a pro-Chechen “charity” group chaired by notorious Cold War Russophobe Zbigniew Brzezinski. Freedom House has not launched any other pro-Muslim separatist causes except for this one. Among its committee members are, again, James Woolsey, the famous crusader against Islamofascism, as well as “Cakewalk” Adelman, William “Weekly Standard” Kristol, and Max Kampelman, who is also Chairman Emeritus of Freedom House and another OG on the Project for a New American Century."

    May 1, 2013 at 4:45 pm | Reply
  3. Patrick

    It's self evident that the media has lost it's freedom by putting a right-wing slant on almost all it's reporting. For instance, the media keeps on harping on the "atrocities" committed by the Assad regime in Syria while saying nothing at all about those committed by the so-called " rebels". Then again, the media never mentions the torture that those creeps running Gitmo put those political prisoners through and the list goes on and on and...........

    May 1, 2013 at 7:26 pm | Reply
  4. j. von hettlingen

    While the rest of the world struggles for media freedom, there's the Leveson Report in the UK that calls for press standards – but without "state-sponsored regulation". The phone-hacking scandals in the past revealed that some media in the UK abused their freedom shamelessly.

    May 2, 2013 at 10:55 am | Reply
  5. Vyradder

    Western media seems to focus a lot on creating drama that affects the stock market, the public fear factor, the public fascination with celebrity, the glorification of money and the list goes on. They do this because people lap it up and it sells advertising. A bit of a sad cycle there, but nevertheless I do not support any restriction on media freedom. I just wish their stockholders would allow them to focus more on real news, instead of the garbage that we have to sift through to find the real news.

    May 2, 2013 at 11:47 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      I agree, Vyradder. Enough of this right-wing distortion of the news! Let's just have the facts like Patrick above already said!

      May 2, 2013 at 11:50 am | Reply
  6. Chris Smith

    Test

    May 3, 2013 at 6:43 am | Reply
  7. Chris Smith

    Freedom of the press? Who cares? The media in this country are idiot cheerleaders for Obama. If they all disappeared I would be very happy.

    May 3, 2013 at 6:51 am | Reply
  8. GG

    You forget to mention media in the west who are given directives on the language to use on certain issues in order to shape the public opinion.

    Western media is no better.

    May 3, 2013 at 7:09 am | Reply
  9. Joseph Zrnchik

    It's great to know that we have the freedom to read whatever Zionist lies Reuters and the other corporate conglomerates decide to show down our throats. No media person ever has to worry about being knocked off because the politicians and the reporters all work in the interests of the police state, the military-industrial complex, the national security state, the banking system and all other imperial interests their globalist agenda.

    May 3, 2013 at 7:36 am | Reply
  10. paisan

    this idea that America and the west have a free press is total nonsense
    what they have is outstanding propaganda that makes you believe we have free press

    May 3, 2013 at 7:38 am | Reply
  11. Selena

    The American press has devolved into a propaganda machine for the left. Who gives a damn about them?

    May 3, 2013 at 9:00 am | Reply
    • paisan

      they have propagandized you, there is no left or right ,its the left or right hand of the same power source, their goals are the same they just wear different hats

      May 3, 2013 at 10:55 am | Reply
    • Quigley

      Wrong, Selena. The American press has developed into a propaganda machine for the Right, not the left. Furthermore, Obama threw in with the right-wing fanatics upon assuming the Presidency, if not before!

      May 4, 2013 at 2:02 pm | Reply
  12. ascpgh

    Freedom of the press at risk? How about freedom of the press to publish thought independently of the political sect in power?

    Never before has the "press" so equalled the French fourth estate as it does now. CNN is one of the leading sandbaggers buttressing the leader or political candidate of their preference.

    How did this happen? When the press became hand-fed and the people no longer cared about it because it was just existent to spew more spin for the elected class.

    May 3, 2013 at 12:39 pm | Reply
  13. Leslie Lox

    With the spirit of McCarthyism moving slowly over the landscape we should remember how in 1787 one night after many such long working nights a man emerged from Independence Hall in Philadelphia. The night was warm, Fire flies mixed with stars blinking over the waiting crowd.
    “What have you given us?” a man from the crowd yelled out.
    James Madison who emerged was mounting his horse and said back, “We have given you a democracy … if you can keep it!”
    Those words tell us deliberately, to more wisely monitor our freedoms and rights and to also hold our honorable and not so honorable local leaders accountable ... It’s more difficult than many think, but history is at a crossroads and this is forever.
    Les on http://www.NiLoPublishing.com

    May 3, 2013 at 6:27 pm | Reply
    • rightospeak

      Spirit of McCarthyism , Leslie ????? Joe was RIGHT ! They were Communists in great numbers in our government at the time and they had a harmful influence on our policies including useless wars and creating more Communist countries. Unfortunately he was demonized like whistleblowers today for telling the truth. Actually Joe was a patriot and a man of great courage which we seem to be lacking today.

      May 3, 2013 at 9:21 pm | Reply
      • Joseph McCarthy

        Actually rightospeak, the politician who happened to have the same name as mine was no more than an opportunist who just took advantage of the fear of "Communists" in our government which there were very few, if any at all! He used this fear to make a name for himself and thus promote his political career, nothing more!

        May 5, 2013 at 2:13 pm |
  14. Marco Hsiao

    [Most distorting "foreign news"]

    After checking with 20 countries' main media on foreign news, it is very clear the US media has most lies and largest distortion. It often likes a crazy sickman to emphasize foreign disaster, unrest, killing and scandal. If there are 29 positive foreign news and 1 negative forein news, it often just report one positive news and one negative news.

    The US media are also very corrupt receiving lots of money from the US military complex to cheat the US citizens for promoting the US military budget (to bankrupt the US treasury). Besides, the US foreign news often insult other countries, no respect, it is one of most immoral international news of the world.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:14 am | Reply
  15. Marco Hsiao

    Brazilian foreign news is quite balanced, and respects other countries. Mainland China's foreign news is better than the US, for example it reports India's activities of national day and country's achievement after independence; or report on Vietnam's economic achievement and growth. You might be surprising but it is true.

    May 5, 2013 at 12:17 am | Reply

Post a comment


 

CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

Next entry »
Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.

Join 4,679 other followers