Global press freedom fell to its lowest level in over a decade in 2013, as hopes raised by the Arab Spring were further dashed by major regression in Egypt, Libya, and Jordan, and marked setbacks also occurred in Turkey, Ukraine, and a number of countries in East Africa. In another key development, media freedom in the United States deteriorated due primarily to attempts by the government to inhibit reporting on national security issues.
Meanwhile, as a result of declines in democratic settings over the past several years, the share of the world's population that enjoys a Free press remained at 14 percent, meaning only one in seven people live 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.
These are the most significant findings of this report, the latest edition of an annual report published by Freedom House since 1980. While there were positive developments in a number of countries, most notably in sub-Saharan Africa, the dominant trends were reflected in setbacks in a range of settings.
The year's declines were driven by the desire of governments -- particularly in authoritarian states or polarized political environments -- to control news content, whether through the physical harassment of journalists covering protest movements or other sensitive news stories; restrictions on foreign reporters; or tightened constraints on online news outlets and social media. In addition, press freedom in a number of countries was threatened by private owners -- especially those with close connections to governments or ruling parties -- who altered editorial lines or dismissed key staff after acquiring previously independent outlets.These factors were behind the majority of the status downgrades for 2013, including the shifts from Partly Free to Not Free in Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia. Significant declines also occurred in the Central African Republic, Egypt, Greece, Jordan, Kenya, Montenegro, Mozambique, Tanzania, and Uganda.
Separately, influential authoritarian powers such as China and Russia continued to maintain a tight grip on locally based print and broadcast media, while also attempting to control the more independent views provided either in the blogosphere or by foreign news sources. Both countries introduced additional legal measures to penalize online speech in 2013. And while China focused on suppressing dissent on popular microblogging services and obstructing the foreign press, the Russian government closed RIA Novosti, a long-established news service, replacing it with an organization more openly under direct Kremlin control. Conditions in Eurasia remain bleak, with 97 percent of the region's population living in Not Free media environments.
Even more open media environments are not immune to pressure on press freedom. The year featured the most significant decline of the past decade in one of the world's largest democracies, the United States, due to government attempts to control official information flows, particularly concerning national security -- related issues; the legal harassment of journalists with regard to protection of sources; and revelations of surveillance that included both the bulk collection of communications data by the National Security Agency (NSA) and the targeted wiretapping of media outlets. Disclosures that surveillance was being conducted by a range of governments -- many of them democratic -- against ordinary citizens as well as key political figures intensified concerns on a global level about the ability of journalists and others who gather and disseminate news and information to protect sources and maintain their digital privacy.