Last year’s Arab Spring pro-democracy movement contributed to improving press freedom around the world, but even after some big gains there and elsewhere, more of the world’s population today lives in countries with suppressed freedom compared to a year prior, according to U.S.-based press freedom watchdog and human rights group Freedom House in its “Freedom of the Press 2012” report.
As a result of loosening restrictions in several Arab Spring states—namely Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt—the world’s freedom index did not decline overall in 2011, for the first time in eight years, the report said.
In these fledgling democracies, particularly Libya and Tunisia, the watchdog said press freedom is critical for the progress of democracy in the Middle East and North Africa.
Outside of the Middle East, probably the biggest winners this year were the citizens of Burma (also known as Myanmar). In 2010, it scored 94, but improved to 85 in the new rating with the loosening of censorship, the release of imprisoned bloggers, and the increase of private media.
The rating is based on legal, political, and economic dimensions that determine the climate for print, broadcast, and Internet freedom in the respective country. Scores range from 0 (the most free) to 100 (the least free), which determine the overall designation as Free, Partly Free, or Not Free.
Other states to experience positive improvements this year were Indonesia, Niger, the Philippines, Thailand, and Zambia, the report states.
Big losers, however, were countries where the Arab Spring movement failed to topple dictators. The regimes in Bahrain and Syria both heavily cracked down on the dissent including the press in 2011 in trying to stamp out the demonstrations.
A continuing pattern of decline resulted in several well-established democracies, such Chile and Hungary, being downgraded from Free to Partly Free. Deterioration was also registered in Ecuador, Macedonia, Malawi, Uganda, and Ukraine.
“Due to downgrades in some previously free countries, the percentage of the world’s population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade,” Freedom House wrote.
Authoritarian states of China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela were also highlighted by Freedom House as maintaining a “tight grip on the press, including detaining and jailing critics, closing down media outlets, and bringing legal cases against journalists.”