2015: Freedom of Press declines worldwide

Pressefreiheit in Japan
23. Mai 2015

Freedom of press declines worldwide

Conditions for the press worsened in many countries last year, according to a report from Freedom House, a democracy watchdog group that monitors conditions around the world for writers, journalists and the media. The report found that worldwide, press freedom declined last year to its lowest level in more than 10 years.

Only 1 in 7 people worldwide live in a country where political news is freely reported. In most countries, journalists do not operate in safety, and economic and political powers continue to meddle with the media. Overall, press freedom declined in 61 countries, but only improved in 33.

The report found that the worst countries on the list, Belarus, Crimea, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Syria, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan stand in stark contrast to countries like Norway, Sweden and Belgium at the top of the list. That means, readers are missing the real news from a significant portion of the world. The United States was ranked 34th in press freedom and Japan finished in a six-way tie for 41st place.

In countries where governments feel threatened, press freedoms are declining. The report noted, though, that terrorism and violence were only part of the causes of the decline. Autocratic rulers in many countries used terrorism as an excuse to limit expression and reporting. Dissidents, particularly those reporting on political conditions, have been incarcerated in prisons or psychiatric hospitals.

That violence is not the cause in Japan. Japan’s ranking this year resulted mainly from political interference with the press. Compared with other countries, Japan’s laws and regulations ensuring freedom of the press are still in place, but political pressure to stifle dissent has risen. Japan’s press freedom score of 25 (with one as high and 100 being low) dropped in particular because of the political environment. Japan scored 14 out of 40 for political interference. In another report by Reporters Without Borders, Japan dropped in its ranking from 2014, coming in 61st out of 180 countries.

Dissent and debate have clearly not improved with the rise of the Internet, according to the Freedom House report.

While videos of police abuse in America, video clips from Japanese TV and street demonstrations in Iran are instantly accessible online, in many countries those people posting reports, uploading videos or expressing ideas that diverge from rulers continue to be harassed, pressured to be silent or even arrested. Online censorship and surveillance have in many ways only made it easier for authorities to suppress dissent.

The functioning of a free and unfettered press is an essential and invaluable right that belongs to all people. The report from Freedom House shows again that press freedom is a right that must continue to be used, protected and labored for, both in Japan and around the world.