25 October 2016
Hong Kong and Chinese governments have stepped up pressure against journalists, says a US watchdog. Photo: CNSA
Hong Kong and Chinese governments have stepped up pressure against journalists, says a US watchdog. Photo: CNSA

Global press freedom at weakest level in 12 years: watchdog

Press freedom took a hit throughout the world in 2015, falling to its weakest level in 12 years as political, criminal and militant forces sought to attack and intimidate the media, a US watchdog says.

In a report released this week, Freedom House said assaults on members of the news media have spread beyond chronically dangerous areas for journalists, the New York Times reported.

“Media freedom declined not just in repressive societies, but also in Europe,” Jennifer Dunham, director of research for Freedom House’s annual freedom of the press report, was quoted as saying.

“Journalists in much of Europe had to contend with new threats from terrorists as well as new surveillance and security laws that could hamper their work,” she said. 

In China, where the news media is already heavily restricted, censorship increased over information about the financial system and pollution, Freedom House noted.

The press intimidation extended to Hong Kong, it said, citing cases such as missing booksellers and Beijing’s growing inroads into Hong Kong media.

“Professional journalists from established news outlets — as well as Hong Kong-based booksellers — were detained, imprisoned and forced to give televised confessions, representing a disturbing new pattern of repression,” Dunham said.

Freedom House measures press freedom in 199 countries and territories, giving numerical scores from 0 to 100.

Zero represents the best score while 100 marks the worst. 

The global average score for 2015 was 48.9, the worst since 2003, when the average was 45.53.

Hong Kong was rated as “partly free”, with a score of 39.

In recent years the Hong Kong and Chinese governments, as well as businesses that have close ties with Beijing, have increased pressure against local journalists, Freedom House said.

“The number of physical attacks on journalists increased during the year, major businesses withdrew advertising from critical media outlets, and reporters acknowledged the growing practice of self-censorship.”

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