Press Freedom Declines

Photograph by Adam Spence. © 2014. All Rights Reserved.

What is happening to journalism? On the one hand the past decade has seen technology permit journalists to capture what is happening in the world in more ways than ever, and to share it faster via more mediums than ever before. It should be a time for vibrancy and diversity in journalism, a time for it to flourish. The reality is quite different. We see traditional media outlets, those who are responsible for the greatest output and readerships still, struggling, particularly those in the print sector, where jobs are being shed as revenues suffer implacable erosion.

Yet the struggles of a changing business landscape still pale in comparison to the deleterious effect of those traditional foes of journalism; violent conflict and governments who stymie press freedom.

The latest Freedom of the Press report from Freedom House reaches a bleak conclusion, that press freedom around the world is it its lowest point in ten years. Over that ten year period, the trend has mostly been of decline, and the past year demonstrated the sharpest so far.

Perhaps the statistic that stands out the most is that only 14% of the world’s population, 1 in 7 people, live in a country where there is a free press; defined as offering robust political coverage, where journalists have guaranteed safety and where journalists can freely report.

The report sites the implementation of restrictive laws in the name of national security, the growing number of regions in which violence and conflict make journalism unsafe and pressure through government control of media ownership as the most significant factors.

The report also identifies the continued prevalence of targeted hostility to women in journalism, with new media platforms such as Twitter offering increased exposure to intimidation and harassment.

Countries that have experienced significant declines in press freedom over the past four years include Thailand, under the rule of a military junta, Turkey, Hong Kong, Hungary and Egypt. The worst decline though was seen, not in a country led by a despot or a developing country in Africa, but in Greece.

Countries where press freedom has improved over the period 2010-14 include Tunisia, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan and Georgia, though only Tunisia has a press categorised as even partly free. Libya too has experienced gains in press freedom over those four years, but in the past year experienced the equal largest decline in freedom (the other country being Thailand).

The only country categorised as having a free press to make the list of biggest declines in 2014 was Iceland, with the report citing the criminality of deformation, government interference in the media sector and dominance of state broadcasting and partisanship in the private media as factors responsible.

In rankings, Australia sits equal with Austria, the United States and Belize at 33. Norway and Sweden are ranked equal first, with the United Kingdom at 38, Germany at 22 and New Zealand at 26. Ranked lowest at 199 is North Korea with China and Vietnam at 186.

Countries with whom relations have recently warmed include Iran, ranked 190, Cuba (193), and Myanmar at 161. Qatar, notable for operating the news channel Al Jazeera is ranked 148, sharing the ranking with Afghanistan and Singapore.