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Speaking of: : Freedom of the Press

October 11, 1994|Times researcher Ann Griffith

Press freedom is limited by drug lords in Colombia, who threaten journalists and last year murdered five reporters; by Islamic codes in Saudi Arabia, where it is illegal to manufacture, import, sell or use satellite dishes; and by government decree in the United Kingdom, where the coverage of selected subjects and people is forbidden. A ban in Northern Ireland on broadcasting direct interviews with 11 organizations was ended last month.

Despite these and many other restrictions, the press is judged more free today than 15 years ago, when the New York-based Freedom House began an international survey. According to their "Good News and Bad, Press Freedom Worldwide: 1994" 36% of the 186 nations surveyed have some form of free press compared to 33% in 1979.

This percent represents a continuing decline since a high of 39% about five years ago. In 1989 the demise of communism in Eastern and Central Europe, reduction of press controls in the Soviet Union and similar winds of change on the African continent raised the number of free-press nations.

The nonprofit, nonpartisan group analyzed both print and broadcast media based on the premise of opinion and speech established by Article 19 of the United Nation's Universal Declaration of Human Rights.


There is a marked difference between the freedom accorded newspapers and that permitted radio and television. Fifteen years ago rulers had more control over broadcast services but recently they have become less protective. Most countries still own and control domestic radio and television systems. They allow independent, generally smaller broadcasters to operate, secure in the knowledge of their greater control.

1979 1994* Print Broadcast Print Broadcast Free 33% 24% 32% 36% Partly free 24% 22% 30% 37% Not free 43% 54% 38% 27%

* First quarter


No country has a perfect record on the Freedom House scale from zero to 100, with lower scores representing the greatest freedoms. Belgium is rated the country with the freest press with a score of 7, the United States ranks with Luxembourg for the 6th best score and Iraq is rated the most repressed with a high of 99. Afghanistan and Somalia were not rated on the point scale because of the lack of central government on which to base judgement. But journalism is judged to be totally repressed in the two nations.

The rankings are based on four factors:

1. Laws and regulations that influence media content

2. Political pressures exerted on the press

3. Economic influences such as pressures in the private sector that distort reportage as well as economic favoritism or reprisals by the government

4. Repressive actions such as physical violence against journalists, or their facilities, censorship and harassment.

Number on left is the country's rank, on right is its score; 72 is lowest rank.

10 BEST 1. Belgium (7) 2. New Zealand (8) 3. Australia (9) 4. Norway (10) 5. Denmark (11) Germany (11) Sweden (11) Switzerland (11) 6. Luxembourg (12) United States (12) 7. Canada (13) St. Lucia (13) 8. Iceland (14) Netherlands (14) Spain (14) 9. Costa Rica (16) Ireland (16) 10. Barbados (17) Finland (17)

10 WORST 72. Iraq (99) 71. Cuba (96) 70. Tadzhikistan (93) 69. Burma (90) North Korea (90) 68. China (89) Turkmenistan (89) 67. Burundi (88) Sudan (88) Zaire (88) 66. Chad (87) Haiti (87) Libya (87) 65. Serbia-Montenegro (86) 64. Togo (85) Uzbekistan (85) 63. Uganda (84)


1983 1988 1993 1994* Journalists reported killed 14 46 74 20 Journalists arrested, detained 80 225 368 51 Journalists kidnapped, "disappeared" 4 14 47 8 Journalists physically abused NA 118 170 26

* First quarter


"Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers." --Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights, U.N. General Assembly, 1948

Source: "Good News and Bad, Press Freedom Worldwide, 1994" Freedom House

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