Vigilance required

Freedom House is a US-based “non-profit, nonpartisan organization…a clear voice for democracy and freedom around the world.” Their latest report details the state of press freedom in the world in 2005. Notable setbacks were registered in the United States, the Americas and a host of other countries. Ukraine and Lebanon improved as did some nations in the Middle East.

“While the United States remained one of the strongest performers in the survey, its numerical score declined due to a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations. Additionally, doubts concerning official influence over media content emerged with the disclosures that several political commentators received grants from federal agencies, and that the Bush administration had significantly increased the practice of distributing government-produced news segments.”

Australia fares little better, coming in 30th, way behind New Zealand, Jamaica, Ireland, Portugal and many others. Western Europe retains the highest level of press freedom worldwide while the worst rated are Burma, Cuba, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan.

The report continues: “In terms of population, 17 percent of the world’s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 38 percent have a Partly Free press and 45 percent have a Not Free press. This situation represents a decline over the past year, as the percentage of people who live in countries with a Not Free media environment has increased by 2 percent.”

US News and World Report magazine recently complained that the Bush administration has ”quietly but efficiently dropped a shroud of secrecy across many critical operations of the federal government – cloaking its own affairs from scrutiny and removing from the public domain important information on health, safety, and environmental matters. The result has been a reversal of a decades-long trend of openness in government.” Similar complaints could be directed at the Howard government in Australia.

Until the mainstream media join forces to complain frequently and loudly about these erosions to our right to know, our democracy will continue to diminish.

Text and images ©2024 Antony Loewenstein. All rights reserved.

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