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Freedom House reports increasing pressure on journalists

Worldwide freedom of the press has declined sharply in the past decade, a human rights watchdog group warns. The annual report of Freedom House says a driving factor is new, restrictive laws against the media.

In its annual report released on Wednesday, the group Freedom House noted that journalists faced

intensified pressure from all sides.

"Governments used security or antiterrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices, militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests," the report's project manager Jennifer Dunham said.

The report,

which ranks countries

as "free," "partly free" or "not free" found that 63 of the 199 countries and territories studied in 2014 (32 percent) were rated "free," while 71 (36 percent) were "partly free" and 65 (32 percent) "not free." Only one in seven people worldwide lived in the "free" countries, characterized by strong coverage of political news, guarantees of journalists' safety and only minor state meddling in media affairs.

Countries ranked

The best-ranked countries were Norway, Sweden and Belgium, while the worst-ranked were Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The United States received a slightly lower grade this year due to the

treatment of journalists by police

during protests in Ferguson, Missouri, the report said.

Other findings from the report include that

China's rating fell

as "authorities tightened control over liberal media outlets." Europe as a region had the highest score but also experienced the second-largest decline over the past 10 years. Tougher conditions for journalists were reported in Russia, Syria, Algeria, Nigeria and Ethiopia, while Tunisia "registered the best score of any Arab country." Only 2 percent of those living in the Middle East and North Africa have a free press environment, Freedom House said.

Propaganda danger

The watchdog group said one factor in the decline in press freedom was the use of restrictive laws, often passed for national security reasons. Freedom House's Dunham said one of the most troubling developments of last year was democratic states' struggle to cope with an "onslaught of propaganda" from authoritarian regimes and militant groups.

"There is a danger that instead of encouraging honest, objective journalism and freedom of information as the proper antidote, democracies will resort to censorship or propaganda of their own," she said.

se/sms (AP, AFP)

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