THIS STORY HAS BEEN FORMATTED FOR EASY PRINTING

Report says the freedom of the press has declined

By Barry Schweid
Associated Press / May 1, 2009
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WASHINGTON - Press freedom declined worldwide in 2008 as even once-unfettered nations such as Israel and Italy imposed new limits on media coverage, according to a report by media analysts.

"Declines in Israel, Italy, and Taiwan illustrate that established democracies with traditional open media are not immune to restricting freedom," said Arch Puddington, research director for Freedom House, a nonprofit that plans to release the report today in advance of World Press Freedom Day on Sunday.

In 2007, the Middle East was the only region that had showed improvement, Puddington said in an interview. Now it shows decline, he said. Overall, the Middle East and North Africa have had the world's lowest level of press freedom.

Freedom House attributed the new press limits in Israel mostly to travel restrictions and military censorship imposed on the press during Israel's conflict with Palestinians in Gaza. Most media outlets were dependent on government spokespeople for their information, Puddington said.

At the same time, press freedom declined in the Israeli- occupied territories of the West Bank and Gaza as Hamas and Fatah intimidated journalists, the report said.

Despite hopes that the Internet and new media might provide openings, the countries with the most handcuffed press were Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea, and Turkmenistan - all longtime offenders.

The report surveyed 195 countries and territories with 70 rated free, 61 partly free, and 64 not free. Only 17 percent of the world's population live in countries that enjoy a free press, the report said. "It is disturbing you have this decline affecting just about every part of the world," Puddington said.