Watchdog Decries Worldwide Crackdown on Free Press

Colombian journalists demand greater protection for the profession.
A demonstration of Colombian journalists demands greater protection for the profession. (El Catolicismo)

EspañolJournalists worldwide are facing the worst and most dangerous conditions in which to do their job in the last ten years, according to the Freedom of the Press 2015 report published by Freedom House. Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, and Mexico are among the worst countries in the Americas for reporters, according to the US-based watchdog organization.

Honduras, Perú y Venezuela sufrieron caídas significaticas con respecto al 2013. (Freedom House)
Honduras, Peru, and Venezuela, fell significantly in the rankings with respect to 2013. (Freedom House)

According to the 2015 report, presented in Washington, DC on Wednesday, April 28, the last year has seen governments, criminals, and media owners restrict the freedom of the press through intimidation and heavy-handed legislation.

“Journalists faced intensified pressure from all sides in 2014,” Jennifer Dunham, project manager of the report, said in a press release.

“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.”

Freedom House observes that while it may seem that information is unlimited in the information age, with more channels of communication available than ever before, several countries in the world are fast becoming no-go zones for those seeking to carry out independent journalism.

Freedom of the press at the global level didn’t only decline to its lowest point in the last 10 years, but the rate of decline accelerated dramatically in 2014.

Of the 199 countries analyzed at a global level, only 32 percent of the them are categorized as free countries, 36 percent as partly free and the rest are judged to be not free and among the most dangerous for reporters. Only one in seven of the world’s inhabitants are found to live in countries with a free press.

The ten worst countries and regions to work as a journalist are, according to the study, Belarus, Crimea, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

Risky Business

In Latin America, only Uruguay and Costa Rica are countries where journalists can practice their profession without significant risks, while in Cuba, Venezuela, Ecuador, Mexico, Peru, and Honduras, reporters face far greater risks. The region registered its worst fall in the rankings in the last five years.

Argentina in particular has witnessed a striking deterioration in the freedom of the press; going from boasting position number 29 worldwide in 1995, to ranking 51st in 2014.

Cuba, with a rating of 91 out of 100 (with 100 being least free) ranked last in the region, despite moves to normalize relations with the United States since December 2014. The study indicates that several journalists remained behind bars in the Caribbean nation throughout 2014.

The Cuban constitution prohibits private media ownership. Information can only be disseminated if it meets with the objectives of a “socialist society.” The freedom of the press is restricted through laws that criminalize the spread of enemy “propaganda” and news not authorized by the Castro regime.

All of the island’s media outlets belong to the Cuban government, with the exception of a few underground publications. The content of the three national dailies, four television stations, the six national radio channels, and one international radio frequency, among other official publications, are all determined by the state.

Mexico meanwhile is suffering from endemic violence, and continues to be one of the world’s worst places to work as a journalist. Its ranking declined further with the approval of the Telecommunications Law, which allows the government to monitor and block cell phone communications during street protests. The law has also made the process of securing radio broadcast licences much more difficult.

Repeated legal and verbal onslaughts by President Rafael Correa in Ecuador have served to make the Andean nation a hostile place for independent journalists, facing self-censorship for fear of reprisals, and economic sanctions for those upsetting the government’s sensibilities.

Freedom House used 23 metrics to analyze the way in which pressure from various sources affects the supply of objective information across various media platforms (including the printed press, digital broadcasting, and social networks). Among the indicators studied were the regulatory environment, political influence, access to public information, freedom in accessing various sources of information, and the number of killed or threatened journalists.

Under the government of President Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela, government politicians have continued to buy up independent media and have changed or depoliticized their editorial lines to avoid criticizing the Maduro administration. The study takes as an example the case of national daily El Universal, which was bought in 2014 by business magnates close to the government.

With regard to the United States, the land of the free was not entirely so for the journalistic profession. The country fell by one point for the “detentions, harassment, and rough treatment” of journalists by police during protests in Ferguson, Missouri. The report also remarked on the reticence of the White House to disseminate information concerning the administration of President Barack Obama.

Translated by Laurie Blair.

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