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Freedom of press too limited

Washington-based international non-profit, nonpartisan organization Freedom House has released the findings from its 2007 edition on Freedom of the Press, an annual survey tracking trends in global media freedom. 

The current edition of the survey, Freedom of the Press 2007, points to improvements in several countries such as Italy, Nepal, Colombia, and Haiti; however, it shows mixed trends in Africa, as well as a continuation of a longer-term pattern of decline in press freedom in Asia, Latin America, and the former Soviet Union. A major study of the state of media freedom also warned of a growing effort to place restrictions on internet freedom by censoring, harassing, or shutting down sites that provide alternate sources of political commentary.

Out of the 195 countries and territories examined, 74 (38%) were rated Free, while 58 (30%) were rated Partly Free, and 63 (32%) were rated Not Free. In terms of population, 18% of the world’s inhabitants live in countries that enjoy a Free press, while 39% have a Partly Free press and 43% have a Not Free press. The study also noted a longer-term trend of press freedom decline or stagnation in a number of crucial countries and regions, particularly the Americas and the former Soviet Union. In assessing country trends over the past five years, the survey found that Venezuela had suffered the largest single decline in media independence. Other important countries which registered major declines were Thailand, the Philippines, Russia, Argentina, Ethiopia and Uganda.

For the combined Central and Eastern Europe/Former Soviet Union region, 8 countries (28%)—out of a new total of 28 countries, after Montenegro’s independence—remain classified as Free, 10 (36%) are rated as Partly Free, and 10 (36%) as Not Free. While many countries in Central and Eastern Europe rank firmly in the Free category, the repressive media landscape in the former Soviet Union is illuminated by the fact that 10 of the 12 non-Baltic post-Soviet states are ranked Not Free. The first five positions in the 2007 classifications are occupied by Finland, Island, Belgium, Denmark, Norway and Sweden. The classification ends with Burma, Cuba, Libya, Turkmenistan and North Korea. Hungary ranks this year 43th, equal position with Australia (39), Austria, Belize, France, Japan and Slovenia. From Eastern European country's Czech Republic 29th, followed by Lithuania, Latvia, Slovakia ranked 37th, Poland 49th.

Freedom House finds that the rules restricting journalists in Hungary are too strict. Libel in the press counts as crime and can be punished by imprisonment, and, also, journalists are responsible not only for their own words but also for the statements they cite, writes Freedom House in its annual report. Libel ought to be judged according to the civil law, and only fined, like in Western Europe, said lawyer Barnabás Futó. It would be enough if judges preferred fine to imprisonment, said Pál Eötvös, president of the National Alliance of Journalists (MÚOSz). And, according to MÚOSz, it should be the editors or the publishers who face the consequences, he added. (freedomhouse.org, Magyar Hirlap)