Global press freedom falls to lowest level in 12 years
WASHINGTON - Global press freedom fell in 2015, hit by violence against journalists in the Middle East, intimidation in Mexico and concerns about free expression in Hong Kong, a watchdog said Wednesday.
An annual survey by pro-democracy group Freedom House said freedom of the press worldwide dropped to its lowest level in 12 years.
The survey of 199 countries and territories found that the percentage of the global population living in areas with a free press was just 13 percent.
Freedom House said a big part of the problem was "heightened partisanship and polarization" and intimidation and attacks against journalists.
"These problems were most acute in the Middle East, where governments and militias increasingly pressured journalists and media outlets to take sides, creating a 'with us or against us' climate and demonizing those who refused to be cowed," the report said.
"At the same time, the Islamic State and other extremist groups continued their violent attacks on the media and disseminated powerful alternate narratives through their own networks, reaching vast audiences without the need to rely on journalists or traditional news outlets."
The report expressed alarm over harassment, intimidation and assaults on the press in Mexico, and concerns also mounted for Hong Kong, where the disappearance in late 2015 of five residents associated with a local publisher of books critical of China's leaders "raised fears that Beijing is reneging on the 'one country, two systems' arrangement," Freedom House said.
It said China "is home to one of the world's most restrictive media environments," and that deteriorated in 2015, as Beijing stepped up censorship to block news about more topics, such as the financial system and environmental pollution.
In France, the safety of journalists was impacted by the January 2015 attack on Charlie Hebdo, the report said, also citing self-censorship because of safety concerns and legislation "that empowers authorities to conduct mass surveillance with little oversight."
Significant declines were also cited in Turkey, Bangladesh, Gambia, Serbia, Burundi and Yemen.
The report said that 62 countries or territories had a "free" press, with 71 "partly free" and 66 "not free."
The worst rating went to North Korea, with Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Crimea, Eritrea, Cuba, Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Iran and Syria also all near the bottom.
At the top of the list for freedom of the press were Norway, Belgium, Finland, the Netherlands and Sweden.
A separate report last week by Reporters Without Borders also said global press freedom declined in "a new era of propaganda."