The 10 Worst Countries for Journalists

Foreign Policy

Photo Credit: Reuters / Yannis Behrakis

Freedom House ranks the world's most repressive media climates.

by Arch Puddington
Vice President for Research

Each year at this time, Freedom House issues a report on the state of global media freedom. The overall findings for 2012 were bleak: Just 14 percent of the world's population lives in societies that enjoy vibrant coverage of public affairs, a legal environment that undergirds a free press, and freedom from intrusion by the government or other political forces.

The countries profiled are members of an ignoble club -- the 10 most serious violators of press freedom in the world. Most of these countries do have constitutions that pay tribute to the values of freedom of speech and information, but in reality, these protections are often superseded by laws that criminalize press commentary that, according to these regimes, insults the political leadership, breeds "hate," supports "terrorism," or threatens national security. The methods employed to enforce a regime of censorship vary from the downright thuggish to more nuanced tactics. The absence of outright violence does not necessarily signify that a country enjoys a freer media landscape than a country where journalists are regularly murdered. Decades of totalitarian control in North Korea and Cuba have rendered serious efforts at independent journalism nonexistent in the first case and rare in the second.

Many believe that the Internet and other forms of new media will be instruments of liberation for the oppressed. But most of the countries described still have relatively low Internet penetration rates, and in every case, policies have been put in place to limit new media's potential political impact. Whether these measures will prove effective as these countries move to further integrate in the global economy is open to serious question.

1. North Korea
2. Turkmenistan
3. Uzbekistan
4. Eritrea
5. Belarus
6. Cuba
7. Iran
8. Equatorial Guinea
9. Syria
10. Bahrain

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