Burma moves out of worst-countries press list

from the Freedom House Freedom of the Press 2012 report

World’s worst countries in press freedom

The world’s worst countries are Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan. Independent media don’t exist or are barely able to operate. The press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens’ access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression.

UP: Burma, Libya DOWN: Iran, Uzbekistan, Syria

Changes in Burma and Libya allowed them to leave the cohort of world’s worst. But conditions worsened in Iran. It has most journalists behind bars in the world (42) as measured by the Committee to Protect Journalists. And in Uzbekistan, the authorities shut down one of the country’s last independent newspapers. Syria cracked down on independent reporting by citizen journalists and foreign reporters, moved that country to the brink of the 90–100 range.

The Global Picture in 2011

Of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2011, including the new country of South Sudan, a total of 66 (33.5 percent) were rated Free, 72 (36.5 percent) were rated Partly Free, and 59 (30 percent) were rated Not Free.

This balance marks a shift toward the Partly Free category compared with the edition covering 2010, which featured 68 Free, 65 Partly Free, and 63 Not Free countries and territories. Only 14.5 percent of the world lives in countries with a Free press; 45 percent had a Partly Free press and 40.5 percent lived in Not Free environments. The population figures are significantly affected by two countries — China, with a Not Free status, and India, with a Partly Free status — that together account for over a third of the world’s nearly seven billion people.


North Korea and China the worst in Asia

The Asia-Pacific region as a whole exhibited a relatively high level of press freedom in 2011, with 15 countries and territories (37.5 percent) rated Free, 13 (32.5 percent) rated Partly Free, and 12 (30 percent) rated Not Free. The average score for the region rose slightly after positive change in both the legal and political categories in 2011.

  • The Pacific Islands, Australasia, and parts of East Asia have some of the best-ranked media environments in the world.
  • Conditions in South Asia, Southeast Asia, and other parts of East Asia are significantly worse.
  • Only 5 percent of the region’s population had access to Free media, while 49 percent lived in Partly Free and 46 percent in Not Free media environments.
  • Asia includes the world’s worst-rated country, North Korea, as well as several other restrictive media environments, such as China, Laos, and Vietnam. All of these feature extensive state and party control of the press.

China represses, journos rebel

In China, the world’s largest poor performer, the authorities sharply curbed coverage of the popular uprisings in the Middle East and North Africa, retained blocks on foreign social media platforms like Twitter, and tightened controls on investigative reporting and entertainment programming in advance of a sensitive leadership change scheduled for 2012.

Detailed party directives — which can arrive daily at editors’ desks — also restricted coverage related to public health, environmental accidents, deaths in police custody, and foreign policy, among other issues.

Dozens of writers and activists with significant internet followings were forcibly disappeared, abused in custody, and in some cases sentenced to long prison terms after anonymous messages that circulated online in February called for a Tunisian-style revolution in China.

Despite the robust censorship apparatus, Chinese journalists and millions of internet users continued to test the limits of permissible expression by drawing attention to incipient scandals or launching campaigns via domestic microblogging platforms.

Most notably in 2011, journalists defied censorship orders pertaining to coverage of a fatal high-speed train crash in July, while internet users shared real-time updates of both the incident and official attempts to cover up its cause.

Burma up 11 points

On a positive note, the region’s second-worst performer in 2010 experienced a significant opening in 2011. The press freedom score for Burma improved from 94 to 85 points as the regime tentatively implemented political reforms.

Positive developments included the release of imprisoned bloggers, a softening of official censorship, fewer reports of harassment and attacks against journalists, and an increase in the number of private media outlets, which led to somewhat more diversity of content and less self-censorship. In addition, a number of exiled journalists were able to return to the country.

Thailand back in Partly Free

The region featured two positive status changes in 2011. Thailand, which in 2010 had been downgraded to Not Free, moved back into the Partly Free range due to a calmer political situation that enabled expanded reporting on elections, greater space for dissent and coverage of sensitive topics, and a significant decrease in violence against journalists.

Following the end of a state of emergency in late 2010, journalists were better able to cover the news across the country, though access to the restive southern provinces remained restricted.

Despite Thailand’s overall upgrade, the judicial environment deteriorated toward the end of 2011, with increasingly frequent and harsh applications of the lèse-majesté law and the creation of a new internet security agency that can implement shutdowns more quickly and with less oversight.

Tonga becomes Free

The South Pacific island kingdom of Tonga was the only country to earn a status upgrade to Free, a result of the new government’s commitment to strengthening press freedoms and a general reduction in the harassment and intimidation of journalists.

Indonesia rises in ranking

Indonesia moved from 53 to 49 points as a result of reduced restrictions on the broadcasting authority and press council, less official censorship, and journalists’ greater ability to cover news events freely in most of the country.

The Philippines continued to make gains — moving from 46 to 42 points after a major decline in 2009 — due to a reduction in violence against journalists, attempts by the government to address impunity, and expanded diversity of media ownership.

Nepal’s score improved from 59 to 55 points thanks in part to better access to information and a decline in censorship. There were no journalists killed during the year, and fewer restrictions on the production and distribution of news.

Pakistan the deadliest country

India suffered a two-point decline in 2011 because of a worrying attempt to extend content controls over the internet and the murder of a senior newspaper editor in Mumbai, among other problems. The score for Pakistan also declined by two points, as threats against the press from a variety of actors reached unprecedented levels.

CPJ now considers Pakistan to be the deadliest country in the world for reporters. As a result of this danger, self-censorship has increased, particularly on sensitive topics like blasphemy laws and the role and reach of the security forces.