Photo courtesy of BrentDPayne via Flickr.
As news outlets and Internet media communication expands, the freedom to record and access news globally has declined — resulting in censorship, imprisonments, and deaths.
Not all journalists — or citizens — are blessed with a fair playing field. In fact, the number of people enjoying freedom of press has seen serious declines in both democratic and authoritarian nations, the human rights organization Freedom House reports.
The Press Freedom Index, compiled annually by Reporters without Borders (an international organization focused on press freedom), ranks media freedom in nations all over the world to shed light upon government treatment of news access, production, and information sharing.
In 2014, the United States fell a shocking 13 spaces in the ranking to 46 out of 180, one of the most significant declines recorded.
Nordic countries have the highest rankings, with Finland on top for the fourth year running, followed by the Netherlands and Norway — nations known for their democratic principles.
Ranking last are Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea, countries that are defined by authoritarian dictatorships and which have virtually non-existent freedom of information.
How are rankings decided? A variety of criteria is used, ranging from government legislation to reported violence toward journalists and news accessibility. Using an analytic tool, “indicators” are set on a national and global level.
The world’s overall freedom to produce and circulate news sits currently at an indicator was at 3395 in 2013 (this indicator is the first ever due to new technology, and will be a point of reference for future measurements.) In 2014, this number increased to 3456, indicating a slight decline in freedom of information access.
Why is media freedom in decline?
There were some troubling changes noted by Freedom House in 2014’s Global Survey of Media Independence. While there were improvements found in some nations such as the Dominican Republic, Bolivia, and Ecuador, the dominant trend was of political setback.
In fact, they found in 2013 the lowest level of people to enjoy free press in over a decade, with only (roughly) one in six people living in countries where “coverage of political news is robust, the safety of journalists is guaranteed, state intrusion in media affairs is minimal, and the press is not subject to onerous legal or economic pressures.”
The number of those enjoying freedom of press in 2013 was the lowest since 1996, the year of Freedom House’s first report – with declines noted in both democratic and authoritarian nations.
Since the new numbers from 2014 are about the same (14 percent of people enjoying free press) as 2013, this estimation remains consistent.
Journalists killed or behind bars
While 2012 had the most journalist deaths on record by Reporters without Borders since their start in 1985, there were still 70 recorded journalists killed in 2013 — only four less than the last year. In spite of horrific and publicized executions in 2014, the number of journalists killed fell to 42.
In December of 2013, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) found that Syria, Iraq, and Egypt were the deadliest nations for journalists that year. In 2014, Syria, Iraq, and the Ukraine claimed most lives.
2013 was also the second worst year on record for jailed journalists after 2012, according to the CPJ, with Turkey in the lead (for the second year running), followed by Iran and China. Of the 211 on their record, half were jailed in these three countries. 2014 numbers have yet to be exacted.
Media repression goes digital
Interestingly, this overall decline in journalistic freedoms and rise in persecution juxtaposes with massive growth of Internet media outlets, increasingly diverse news sources, and growing communication methods via social media.
Freedom House proposes that this ever-expanding field of news creation and sharing has triggered repressive backlash in some regimes.
As a result, Internet censorship is evident in many nations – notably pervasive in Iran and China – and various social media sources are banned across the world, for both recreational and political purposes.
Originally published on February 5, 2014. Updated on November 11, 2014 to reflect 2014 findings.