The growing crackdown of freedom of expression in the world prompted Freedom House to call on human rights groups and organizations dedicated to freedom of expression (and yes, that includes freedom of press) to step up and defend this right.
Over the past seven years there has been a steady decline worldwide in freedom of expression, including a relentless assault on independent news media, in both authoritarian states and countries with relatively open media environments and attempts to push back international norms at the United Nations.
The SPJ has worked with Freedom House in the past. For a number of years Freedom House provided — at the request of the SPJ International Committee — copies of its Map of Press Freedom to convention delegates.
According to the 2009 report:
- There have been seven straight years of global declines in press freedom, with negative trends outweighing positive movements in every region in 2008, particularly in the former Soviet Union and the Middle East and North Africa.
- Only 17 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a fully Free press.
- In influential countries such as Iran and China, media freedom has stagnated amid worsening repression, despite the promising openings suggested by relative freedom on the internet.
- A number of important emerging democracies in Latin America, Asia and Africa have suffered considerable declines over the past five years, demonstrating the fragility of press freedom in nascent democratic environments.
- According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 88 journalists have been killed in 2009 amid a greater level of impunity, a number greatly increased by the recent massacre in the Philippines, the worst single killing of journalists in history.
- A number of countries, including Pakistan, Egypt, and Malaysia have laws that criminalize speech that can be deemed blasphemous or defamatory of religious sensibilities. Although the United Kingdom has recently rescinded a similar law, Ireland passed one just this year.
- Even in established democracies, press freedom can face threats such as that of Italy where the concentration of ownership threatens independent reporting.
- A potent weapon in the new international censorship arsenal is libel tourism. The United Kingdom’s plaintiff-friendly libel laws are forcing journalists, researchers, authors, and publishers to self-censor or pay the price.
Time for American journalism groups to step up as well.