Press freedom suffering decline, Freedom House says

A leading U.S.-based human rights group says the number of people living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in more than a decade.

In a report issued Wednesday, Freedom House pinned the overall downturn to dramatic new media restrictions in the war-torn West African nation of Mali, as well as new regulations in Greece and parts of Latin America.

The report, Freedom of the Press 2013, says analysts continue to see heightened efforts by authoritarian governments across the globe to put a stranglehold on open political dialogue. It links those crackdown efforts to an authoritarian backlash against the 2011 Arab Spring uprisings in North Africa and the Middle East.

The Freedom House document also cites growing pressure on citizen journalists using unorthodox social media tools, including microblogs, social networks and mobile telephones. It says repressive measures employed by authoritarian governments include the jailing of bloggers and the blocking of web-based content and text messaging services during periods of political unrest.

The report singles out China and Russia for using a variety of techniques to maintain tight media controls, and says those techniques include the jailing of critics and the forced closure of websites.

It listed the world’s eight worst-rated countries as Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

Western Europe was cited for the highest level of press freedom worldwide, even as the report noted the region’s average rating underwent an “unprecedented” decline in 2012. The decline was attributed to deteriorating press conditions in Greece and Spain, and to what Freedom House said is Turkey’s high number of imprisoned journalists.

The United States was labeled “one of the stronger [media] performers” in the Americas, while the report criticized the “limited willingness” of high-level U.S. officials to provide access and information to journalists.

Burma was cited as having made the greatest progress of any nation in opening up its media environment.

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