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Global Press Freedom at 13-Year Low | ASHARQ AL-AWSAT English Archive 2005 -2017
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An AFP reporter takes cover during sniper fire in Syria. AFP photo

Washington- Global press freedom has hit a 13-year low, threatened by western democratic and authoritarian governments that seek to put more restrictions on it, Freedom House said Friday.

The US-based human rights organization highlighted growing concerns over efforts by governments around the world to clamp down on media.

“Political leaders and other partisan forces in many democracies — including the United States, Poland, the Philippines and South Africa — attacked the credibility of independent media and fact-based journalism, rejecting the traditional watchdog role of the press in free societies,” said Jennifer Dunham, who headed the research.

The 2016 study of 199 countries concluded that just 13 percent of the world’s population enjoys a “free press” with robust news coverage and protections for journalists.

Another 42 percent of the world’s population has a “partly free” press and 45 percent live in countries where the media environment is “not free,” the group said.

Friday’s report echoed a similar survey released this week by France-based Reporters Without Borders, which said press freedom is facing serious threats in 72 countries, downgrading the rankings of the United States, Britain and others.

Freedom House said press rights are being eroded by the efforts of politicians in democratic states to shape news coverage and delegitimize media outlets.

Press freedom was on a modest decline in the United States even before Donald Trump took office because of the industry’s financial woes and news organizations’ increasingly partisan positions, the report said.

But attacks on “fake news” and characterization of the news media as “enemies of the people” is worsening the situation, according to Freedom House.

“A greater danger is that the United States will stop being a model and aspirational standard for other countries,” the report said.

“Protection of press freedom in the United States remains vital to the defense and expansion of press freedom worldwide.”

Russia especially is taking advantage of the situation by seeking to manipulate news and social media content in other countries, Freedom House said.

“Vladimir Putin’s regime in Russia has been a trailblazer in globalizing state propaganda,” the report said.

“It continues to leverage pro-Kremlin reporting around the world, particularly in neighboring countries with Russian-speaking populations.”

Press freedom is also under threat from surveillance laws designed to fight terrorism, the report said.

It said Britain, France and Germany have recently passed laws “that tip the balance in favor of eavesdroppers and lack sufficient oversight mechanisms and safeguards against abuse,” it said.

China, Ethiopia, Iran and Syria “are among the many staunchly autocratic countries where physical and online monitoring is a fact of life for journalists, intended in part to intimidate the media and suppress critical coverage.”

Countries with sharp declines in press freedom included Turkey, due to increased censorship, crackdowns on independent media and a rise in detentions and violence against journalists.

Poland also saw a major drop thanks to “government intolerance toward independent or critical reporting” and restrictions on speech concerning Polish history and identity.