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Freedom of the Press 2014

May 1, 2014

Global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013, as hopes raised by the Arab Spring were further dashed by major regression in Egypt, Libya, and Jordan, and marked setbacks also occurred in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa. In another key development, media freedom in the United States deteriorated due primarily to attempts by the government to inhibit reporting on national security issues.Meanwhile, as a result of declines in democratic settings over the past several years, the share of the world's population that enjoys a Free press remained at 14 percent, meaning only one in seven people 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.These are the most significant findings of this report, the latest edition of an annual report published by Freedom House since 1980. While there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings.The year's declines were driven by the desire of governments -- particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments -- to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners -- especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties -- who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.These factors were behind the majority of the status downgrades for 2013, including the shifts from Partly Free to Not Free in Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia. Significant declines also occurred in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.Separately, influential authoritarian powers such as China and Russia continued to maintain a tight grip on locally based print and broadcast media, while also attempting to control the more independent views provided either in the blogosphere or by foreign news sources. Both countries introduced additional legal measures to penalize online speech in 2013. And while China focused on suppressing dissent on popular microblogging services and obstructing the foreign press, the Russian government closed RIA Novosti, a long-established news service, replacing it with an organization more openly under direct Kremlin control. Conditions in Eurasia remain bleak, with 97 percent of the region's population living in Not Free media environments.Even more open media environments are not immune to pressure on press freedom. The year featured the most significant decline of the past decade in one of the world's largest democracies, the United States, due to government attempts to control official information flows, particularly concerning national security -- related issues; the legal harassment of journalists with regard to protection of sources; and revelations of surveillance that included both the bulk collection of communications data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the targeted wiretapping of media outlets. Disclosures that surveillance was being conducted by a range of governments -- many of them democratic -- against ordinary citizens as well as key political figures intensified concerns on a global level about the ability of journalists and others who gather and disseminate news and information to protect sources and maintain their digital privacy.

Press Freedom by the Numbers

May 1, 2014

Use our interactive data tool to compare the press freedoms of regions and countries over time.

What Next? The Quest to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in a Digital World

February 21, 2014

Around the world, governments and non-state actors are using sophisticated techniques to monitor, threaten, and harass human rights defenders (HRDs) and journalists. The growing use of digital technology has empowered activists to rally citizens around common causes and hold governments accountable, but it has also opened new doors for surveillance and harassment of activists and citizens' activities online. On November 14 -- 15, 2013, Freedom House, funded by the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), held a global conference in Mexico City entitled "What Next? The Quest to Protect Journalists and Human Rights Defenders in a Digital World," which brought together over 60 policymakers, donors, and activists to explore the full range of emerging threats and best strategies to overcome them; take an honest look at what is and is not working; and chart a path forward for more proactive and realistic solutions to build the resilience, sustainability, and relevance of HRDs and their movements. The conference sought to answer "what's next?" by identifying opportunities that can be exploited to build up frontline defenders and their ability to uphold human rights principles fearlessly and strategically at home and abroad.

Democracy in Crisis: Corruption, Media, and Power in Turkey

February 3, 2014

In November 2013, a Freedom House delegation traveled to Turkey to meet with journalists, NGOs, business leaders, and senior government officials about the deteriorating state of media freedom in the country. The delegation's objective, and the plan for this report, was to investigate reports of government efforts to pressure and intimidate journalists and of overly close relationships between media owners and government, which, along with bad laws and overly aggressive prosecutors, have muzzled objective reporting in Turkey.Since November, events in Turkey have taken a severe turn for the worse. The police raids that revealed a corruption scandal on December 17, and the allegations of massive bidrigging and money laundering by people at the highest levels of the government, have sparked a frantic crackdown by the ruling Justice and Development (AK) Party. More journalists have been fired for speaking out. Hundreds of police officers and prosecutors have been fired or relocated across the country. Amendments to the new Internet regulation law proposed by the government would make it possible for officials to block websites without court orders. The government is also threatening the separation of powers by putting the judiciary, including criminal investigations, under direct control of the Ministry of Justice. The crisis of democracy in Turkey is not a future problem -- it is right here, right now.This report on the media recognizes that what is happening in Turkey is bigger than one institution and part of a long history that continues to shape current events. The media in Turkey have always been close to the state; as recently as 1997, large media organizations were co-opted by the military to subvert a democratically elected government. The AK Party was formed in the wake of those events. But even as it has tamed the military, the AKP has been unable to resist the temptations of authoritarianism embedded in the state the military helped create. Over the past seven years, the government has increasingly employed a variety of strong-arm tactics to suppress the media's proper role as a check on power. Some of the most disturbing efforts include the following:Intimidation: Prime Minister Recep Tayyip Erdo?an frequently attacks journalists by name after they write critical commentary. In several well-known cases, like those of Hasan Cemal and Nuray Mert, journalists have lost their jobs after these public attacks. Sympathetic courts hand out convictions in defamation cases for criticism.Mass firings: At least 59 journalists were fired or forced out in retaliation for their coverage of last summer's Gezi Park protests. The December corruption scandal has produced another string of firings of prominent columnists.Buying off or forcing out media moguls: Holding companies sympathetic to the government receive billions of dollars in government contracts, often through government bodies housed in the prime minister's office. Companies with media outlets critical of the government have been targets of tax investigations, forced to pay large fines, and likely disadvantaged in public tenders.Wiretapping: The National Security Organization has wiretapped journalists covering national security stories, using false names on the warrants in order to avoid judicial scrutiny.Imprisonment: Dozens of journalists remain imprisoned under broadly defined antiterrorism laws. A majority of those in prison are Kurds, and some analysts believe the government is using them as bargaining chips in negotiations with the Kurdish PKKThese tactics are unacceptable in a democracy. They deny Turkish citizens full access to information and constrain a healthy political debate. Journalists and government officials alike acknowledge that reporters and news organizations have practiced self-censorship to avoid angering the government, and especially Prime Minister Erdogan.The intentional weakening of Turkey's democratic institutions, including attempts to bully and censor Turkey's media, should and must be a matter of deep concern for the United States and the European Union. As the AKParty's internal coalition has grown more fragile, Erdogan has used his leverage over the media to push issues of public morality and religion and to squelch public debate of the accountability of his government. The result is an increasingly polarized political arena and society.Freedom House calls on the government of Turkey to recognize that in a democracy, a free press and other independent institutions play a very important role. There are clear and concrete steps the Turkish government must take to end the intimidation and corruption of Turkey's media. Chief among these are the following:Cease threats against journalists.Repeal the criminal defamation law and overly broad antiterrorism and "criminal organization" laws that have been used to jail dozens of journalists.Comply with European and international standards in procurement practices in order to reduce the incentive for media owners to curry favor by distorting the news. Turkish media owners themselves must make a commitment to support changes in procurement practices if they are to win back the trust of Turkey's citizens.Although building a resilient democracy is fundamentally up to Turkish citizens, the international community cannot afford to be bystanders. The European Union and the OSCE have raised strong concerns about government pressure on Turkey's media, and the EU's warnings against governmental overreach have been pointed. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for the United States. The Obama administration has been far too slow to realize the seriousness of the threat to Turkey's democracy. U.S. criticism of the Turkish government's recent actions has come from the State Department spokesperson and White House press secretary, not from the high-ranking officials who need to be engaged in responding to a crisis of this scale. Where European governments and institutions have been specifically and publicly engaged with the government over the crisis, the Obama administration has avoided the difficult issues. It is time to speak frankly and with seriousness about the growing threat to democracy in Turkey, and to place freedom of expression and democracy at the center of the policy relationship.

One Step Forward, One Step Back: An Assessment of Freedom of Expression in Ukraine during its OSCE Chairmanship

December 2, 2013

2013 is the first year Ukraine has held the Chairmanship in Office (CIO) of the OSCE since it became a participating state in the organization in 1992. The Chairman in Office, Ukraine's Minister of Foreign Affairs Leonid Kozhara, outlined the country's priorities for its CIO in November 2012, among which were the freedom of speech, resolving the frozen conflicts, and combating human trafficking, and acknowledged that Ukraine's own record would be under the microscope during its CIO.Little progress has been made on many of those questions as acknowledged by Foreign Minister Kozhara in a recent editorial and in a bi-annual report issued by the Ukrainian Ministry of Foreign Affairs on the Ukrainian OSCE chairmanship. According to their assessments, special attention has been paid to resolving the frozen conflicts, but few results in strengthening the freedom of speech have been realized except for the "arrangement of necessary conditions for renewal of mandate of Representative on Freedom of the Media."Ukraine's progress in meeting its obligations to respect the freedom of expression, including to facilitate the dissemination of information and working conditions for journalists, has been mostly unsatisfactory in recent years lagging behind progress made in Moldova, Georgia, and Armenia while doing better than Azerbaijan and Belarus. In spite of the generally high quality of legislation, the reality of implementation is less impressive. Citizens may freely express their views, and collect and disseminate information, but access to free and pluralistic media and to public information held by the authorities is inadequate. Journalists' working conditions are not secure enough to work safely and remedies for violations of journalists' rights or attacks on journalists are ineffective.The media, and especially television, is rife with hidden paid content, making it difficult for viewers to discern what news is real and what is not. Television stations are constantly juggling political and economic pressure. Adherence to journalistic standards is unsatisfactory as ethics boards are ineffective.2013 has thus far included some meaningful efforts to improve Ukrainian media legislation following a 2-year delay in reform; the Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's Parliament) enacted a law on ownership transparency of media and passed the laws on public service broadcasting and privatization of government-owned press in the first reading. Neither law has proceeded to the second reading though, raising concerns about their ultimate fate.Access to the media for the ruling party and its allies is significantly easier, including during the electoral period, due to legislative privileges for officials and governmental bodies and their influence on government-owned media outlets. Nationwide TV channels often do not cover the opposition because of special relations between their oligarch owners and the ruling political forces. A lack of quality analytical reports on television, the Internet, and in the print press, as well as the proliferation of tabloid-style content, also limit access to good quality information and access to the media by the opposition.Much of the local media is financially dependent on the government and thus on the ruling political forces. Ownership of TV channels is not transparent and the new law on media ownership leaves loopholes, allowing opaque ownership structures to persist across the sector. The National Council on TV and Radio Broadcasting is not an independent regulatory body. Moreover, nationwide TV channels show loyalty to the government as important political events and themes, especially those relating to the political opposition, are covered inadequately or not at all.There have been improvements in the protection of journalists' sources. Since implementation of the new Code on Criminal Proceedings, there have been no reports of police pressuring journalists to disclose their sources. Despite this progress, journalists who work for Internet media are still vulnerable.There has been little recent progress in meeting the obligation to guarantee transparency in public affairs. Progress in the sector of access to public information, made in 2011, has stalled. The preliminary passage in 2012 of a draft law that would bring Ukrainian laws in line with model laws on access to information is a step in the right direction, but the second reading has been inexplicably put off several times and the date of its adoption is unclear.

The Long Shadow of Chinese Censorship: How Chinese Media Restrictions Affect News Outlets around the World

October 22, 2013

Since coming to power in 1949, the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) has constructed a multi-layered system for censoring unwanted news and stifling opposing viewpoints within China. Over the past two decades, this domestic apparatus has spawned mechanisms that extend information controls to media outlets based outside China. This study provides a survey of this phenomenon, finding that over the past five years, its nature and scope have intensified and expanded. In many cases, Chinese officials directly impede independent reporting by media based abroad. However, more prevalent -- and often more effective -- are methods of control that subtly induce self-censorship or inspire media owners, advertisers, and other international actors to take action on the CCP's behalf. These efforts -- ranging from discreet to blatant -- are successful in some cases, and encounter significant pushback in others, with journalists and activists at times scoring important victories. But whatever the outcome of each contestation, the "China Factor" is palpably present, be it at the internationally renowned Washington Post, a local newspaper in Nepal, or a Chinese radio talk show in Los Angeles.This report was authored by Freedom House researcher Sarah Cook and published by the Center for International Media Assistance at the National Endowment for Democracy on October 22, 2013. Combining case studies, interviews, and original analysis, its chapters focus on six types of media outlets based outside mainland China that together reach news consumers worldwide: major international media; local outlets in Asia, Africa, and Latin America; mainstream media in Hong Kong and Taiwan; exile Chinese outlets providing uncensored news to people in China; and media serving Chinese diaspora communities around the world.

Media Access and Policy

Freedom on the Net 2013

October 3, 2013

Freedom on the Net 2013 is the fourth report in a series of comprehensive studies of internet freedom around the globe and covers developments in 60 countries that occurred between May 2012 and April 2013. Over 60 researchers, nearly all based in the countries they analyzed, contributed to the project by researching laws and practices relevant to the digital media, testing the accessibility of select websites, and interviewing a wide range of sources, among other research activities. This edition's findings indicate that internet freedom worldwide is in decline, with 34 out of 60 countries assessed in the report experiencing a negative trajectory during the coverage period. Broad surveillance, new laws controlling web content, and growing arrests of social-media users drove this overall decline in internet freedom in the past year. Nonetheless, Freedom on the Net 2013 also found that activists are becoming more effective at raising awareness of emerging threats and, in several cases, have helped forestall new repressive measures.

Media Access and Policy

Throttling Dissent: China's New Leaders Refine Internet Control

July 2, 2013

This special report is based on the 2013 China chapter of Freedom House's annual Freedom on the Net survey. Freedom on the Net is a comparative analysis of internet freedom with a unique methodology, and includes a detailed narrative report and a numerical score for each country assessed.China's numerical score will be published as part of the full report. However, as the home of one of the most systematically controlled and monitored online environments in the world, it will no doubt retain its place among countries where Freedom House categorizes the internet as Not Free. As the Freedom on the Net 2012 survey noted, China increasingly serves as an incubator for sophisticated new types of internet restrictions, providing a model for other authoritarian countries.For this reason, Freedom House is publishing the 2013 China narrative as a special report, examining key developments during the Freedom on the Net coverage period (May 1, 2012, through April 30, 2013) in the context of the recent leadership change in the Chinese Communist Party. Like all Freedom on the Net narratives, the report offers a comprehensive examination of three aspects of internet freedom:Obstacles to AccessLimits on ContentViolations of User Rights

Media Access and Policy

Digital and Mobile Security for Mexican Journalists and Bloggers

February 1, 2013

A new survey of 102 journalists and bloggers in 20 Mexican states shows nearly 70 percent have been threatened or have suffered attacks because of their work. In addition, 96 percent say they know of colleagues who have been attacked. Respondents to the survey also say they view cyber-espionage and email-account cracking as the most serious digital risks they face. And while nearly all have access to and rely on the Internet, social networks, mobile phones and blogging platforms for their work, they also admit that they have little or no command of digital security tools such as encryption, use of virtual private networks (VPNs), anonymous Internet navigation and secure file removal. The results of this survey show the urgent need to introduce Mexican journalists and bloggers to new technologies and protocols and help newsrooms develop a culture of digital-security awareness to counter increasingly sophisticated threats and attacks from both governmental agencies and criminal organizations.

Sounding the Alarm Round 2: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine

July 1, 2012

In 2010 Freedom House released its first special report on Ukraine, "Sounding the Alarm: Protecting Democracy in Ukraine". That report, as the title suggested, warned that Ukraine was heading in the wrong direction on a number of fronts: consolidation of power in the executive branch at the expense of democratic development, a more restrictive environment for the media, selective prosecution of opposition figures, worrisome instances of intrusiveness by the Security Service of Ukraine (SBU), widely criticized local elections in October 2010, a pliant Verkhovna Rada (Ukraine's parliament), an erosion of basic freedoms of assembly and speech, and widening corruption. "Ukraine under President Yanukovych," last year's report warned, "has become less democratic and, if current trends are left unchecked, may head down a path toward autocracy and kleptocracy."A year later, most of those key concerns remain, and in some cases the problems have grown considerably worse, especially in the area of selective prosecution of opposition figures and corruption. The mayoral election in Obukhiv in March was widely criticized for its alleged rigging and fraud and bodes badly for the upcoming Verkhovna Rada elections. The term "familyization" was commonly used by interlocutors, implying that President Yanukovych's family has not only benefitted personally from his presidency (see the section below on corruption) but is increasingly at the center of power and governance. Freedom House's ranking of Ukraine in its Freedom in the World 2012 report remained in the Partly Free category with a negative trend; the same assessment can be found in Freedom House's just-released "Nations in Transit." Against this backdrop, Freedom House, with support from the Open Society Foundations' Ukrainian arm, the International Renaissance Foundation, undertook this follow-up special report on Ukraine.

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