License to Censor: Freedom House report

Catching up.

Freedom House published a great little report that looks at how some governments use (or can use) legislation to restrict press freedom.

The report — License to Censor — looks at the situations in Ecuador, Georgia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa and Uganda.

From the Introduction:

In some parts of the world, the threats to press freedom are explicit and often violent. Journalists are murdered or imprisoned, states maintain strict media monopolies, and domestic audiences are cut off from foreign news sources. Such unambiguously hostile conditions typically elicit strong responses from international advocacy groups and democracies that are committed to defending freedom of expression. However, in a much broader range of countries, governments are using the more subtle tools of media regulation to restrict press freedom, maintaining a veneer of legality and pluralism that is less likely to draw attention or criticism from abroad. Manipulation of the regulatory framework allows leaders to either tolerate or rein in influential news outlets depending on the political situation, and permits even democratically elected governments to fortify themselves against future electoral competition.

This special report describes the primary types of media regulation that are used to restrict press freedom, including:

  • statutory controls on licensing and registration;
  • the creation of nominally independent regulatory bodies with built-in avenues for political influence;
  • legal imposition of vague or burdensome content requirements

Official actions sometimes represent the normal application of highly restrictive laws,while in other cases executive or judicial authorities act arbitrarily, outside the bounds of the law, or in an overtly politicized manner. Government efforts to promote statutory regulation can be particularly effective when self-regulatory mechanisms like media councils or ombudsmen are nonexistent or perceived as weak or underutilized.

The report is in PDF format and is free.

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Filed under Censorship, Freedom of Information, Press Freedom

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