Press freedom deteriorating across the world says WAN

Press freedom worldwide is deteriorating, with 38 journalists murdered in the past six months and increasing pressure on freedom of expression in many countries, according to the annual half-year review of press freedom by the World Association of Newspapers.

The report, presented on Saturday to the Board of the Paris-based WAN on the eve of the World Newspaper Congress and World Editors Forum in Moscow, Russia, painted a picture of attacks, imprisonment and murder facing journalists in many countries.

"In the past six months, journalists worldwide have once again been the victims of harassment, physical violence and murder. A record number of journalists were arrested and imprisoned in Nepal, Belarus, and Ethiopia.

Dozens more remain in prison in China, Cuba and Eritrea. Media enterprises throughout the world have been destroyed or forced to close," WAN said.

Thirty-eight journalists have been killed since November 2005. But that number could be even higher — press freedom monitors report that journalists are censoring themselves rather than risk their lives in Colombia and the Philippines, two of the world's most dangerous countries for journalists, where murderers operate with impunity. Seven journalists have been killed in the Philippines and one in Colombia in the past six months.

Region by region, the report said:

The Americas

With more than 20 journalists behind bars in Cuba, media under threat in Colombia, and a photojournalist killed in Venezuela, the Americas have suffered a number of setbacks in press freedom in the past six months.

Cuba, with 24 journalists remaining in prison, is the hemisphere's — and indeed one of the world's — most notorious jailors of journalists.

Twenty-three of them were victims of the March 2003 crackdown on the press. Many have developed serious health problems, creating increased concern over their general well being.

Legal attacks against freedom of expression continue in Venezuela, with a new law on social responsibility in radio and television, additional reforms of the penal code, and a spate of other new laws, decrees, rules and regulations to further restrict the independent media in the country.

In the United States, major internet companies continue to place profit ahead of principle, with Google being the most recent example of companies that have bowed to China's rigid censorship laws in order to gain access to its market. In February, the search engine launched a Chinese web browser which has been censored to satisfy Beijing's hard-line rulers.


Asia remains the region with the worst press freedom record in the world.

Ongoing internal conflicts create a dangerous and sometimes deadly climate for journalists. The governments in Burma, China and North Korea are among the most repressive in the world and continuously harass journalists.

In China, freedom of expression continues to be severely limited by the authorities. More than 30 journalists remain behind bars in the country.

New restrictions were also launched for television stations in China: in April the country's top media body ordered television broadcasters to stop using international news footage and called for greater "political and propaganda discipline".

In Nepal, more than 400 journalists were arrested in 2005 following the state of emergency declared by King Gyanendra, a measure which had suspended all democratic rights and freedoms in the country. The independent media in Nepal played a key role in the people's rebellion that led to the re-establishment of democracy and freedom of expression.

While the press in the Philippines is considered to be of the freest in Asia, the country is paradoxically also one of the deadliest environments in the world for journalists. In the past six months, seven journalists have been killed in the Philippines.

The acquittal in March in one of the very few journalist murder cases to ever have made it to court was a blow for press freedom in the country.

Europe and Central Asia

Elections in Belarus and Kazakhstan sparked further clampdowns on the press and ongoing challenges to press freedom in Russia have significantly marked the region in the past six months.

Mass anti-government demonstrations in Belarus following the 19 March re-election of President Alexander Lukashenko led to the arrest of scores of protesters and journalists. During a two-week period, more than 30 local journalists were arrested and detained while covering the demonstrations. Foreign journalists were also targeted by security forces.

Press freedom in Kazakhstan deteriorated significantly in the lead up to the December 2005 presidential elections. Attacks on the independent media have not waned since the beginning of the year.

Ongoing legal harassment of the press and rigid controls on television continue to frustrate press freedom in Russia.

The firing of television presenters for being too outspoken is not uncommon.

In November 2005, Olga Romanova, a presenter for the Moscow television station Ren-TV was dismissed for publicly protesting internal censorship at the channel.

Criminal defamation is also regularly employed as a tool to harass media.

Middle East and North Africa

Bloodshed in Iraq, intolerance in Iran and the murder of a celebrated press freedom hero in Lebanon defined this troubled region in the past six months.

Iraq remains the most dangerous country in the world for journalists.

Sixteen were killed in the past six months; four of whom were brutally murdered in the space of one week in March. In all cases, the journalists were specifically targeted and ambushed by unidentified gunmen.

Locking up bloggers remains a favourite practice of the authorities in Iran. In January, Arash Sigarchi received a three-year prison sentence for "insulting the Supreme Guide" and for "propaganda against the regime".

Sigarchi has kept a political and cultural blog since 2002. Journalist Mojtaba Saminejad has been behind bars since February 2005 for posting material online deemed offensive to Islam.

The December slaying of celebrated press freedom hero and publisher Gebran Tueni in Lebanon shocked the nation and sent press freedom spiralling backwards on the heels of tentative, yet significant political reforms in the country. The attack on the An Nahar publisher came six months after the June 2005 murder of Samir Kassir, a political columnist for the newspaper.

Sub-Saharan Africa

Africa faces a multitude of obstacles including civil war, lack of infrastructure, poorly developed markets and totalitarian regimes.

Press freedom has deteriorated in a number of the continent's more stable countries, such as Kenya and Nigeria.

Eritrea and Ethiopia are the continent's biggest jailors of journalists.

In Kenya, press freedom declined sharply in the first six months of this year. On 2 March, heavily armed police in Nairobi raided the Kenya Television Network and forced it off-air. Another raid was carried out on the printing house of The Standard newspaper, the country's second largest daily, where police seized and burnt thousands of copies, disabled the printing press and confiscated equipment including computers.

Three Standard journalists were arrested and have since been charged with publishing "alarming statements." It is thought the raid was prompted by a story that recently appeared in the newspaper claiming that President Kibaki had secretly met with one of Kenya's opposition leaders.

Nigeria, which after the fall of the military regime in 1999 became home to one of the most diverse and professional newspaper markets in Africa, continues to face a number of problems including attacks on journalists, legal harassment against the private media as well as threats and censorship.

The situation for press freedom in Zimbabwe has continued to worsen in the past six months. President Robert Mugabe's regime has forced over 90 journalists into exile, and those that remain work under severe pressure.

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