London Riot Police

The UK's position in the survey dropped in the wake of the London riots of August 2011 and the use of super injunctions

Credit: By Stuart Bannocks (Flickr: Lewisham) [CC-BY-2.0], via Wikimedia Commons
A report into press freedom globally finds that the United Kingdom's level has declined in 2011 due to the "use of super injunctions and riot-related restrictions".

The UK, which is now in joint 31st place in the global press freedom rankings, still ranks among the "highest level[s] of press freedom worldwide", press freedom watchdog Freedom House said in post announcing the results.

There were "dramatic and precarious" gains in press freedom in the Middle East and North Africa following the events of the Arab Spring, the Freedom of the Press 2012: Breakthroughs and Pushback in the Middle East report states.

"For the first time in eight years global media freedom did not experience an overall decline," the watchdog adds.

The report also finds downgrades in freedom in some previously free countries, and concludes that "the percentage of the world's population living in societies with a fully free press has fallen to its lowest level in over a decade".

Egypt, Libya and Tunisia experienced significant improvements as a result of the Arab Spring.

However, "regimes in other countries in the Middle East, such as Bahrain and Syria, carried out harsh crackdowns on the media as they struggled to contain their own Arab Spring protest movements," the report states.

Meanwhile, authoritarian governments in China, Russia, Iran, and Venezuela "used a variety of techniques to maintain a tight grip on the press, including detaining and jailing critics, closing down media outlets, and bringing legal cases against journalists".

According to the report, of the 197 countries and territories assessed during 2011, a total of 66 (33.5 per cent) were rated "free", 72 (36.5 per cent) were rated "partly free", and 59 (30 per cent) were rated "not free". The study found that only 14.5 per cent of the world's inhabitants lived in countries with a "free" press, 45 per cent lived in an area with a "partly free" press and 40.5 per cent lived in a place which was "not free".

"The newly opened media environments in countries like Tunisia and Libya, while still tenuous and far from perfect, are critical for the future of democratic development in the region and must be nurtured and protected," said David J. Kramer, president of Freedom House.

The world's eight worst-rated countries were found to be Belarus, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan.

"In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate, the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime, citizens' access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture, and other forms of repression," Freedom House stated.

The countries with the highest level of press freedom are Finland, Norway and Sweden, sharing joint place at number one with a score of 10.

The UK is in 31st place, joint with Australia, Austria, Slovakia, Micronesia and Belize, with a score of 21.

The UK comes below the US, which is in joint 22nd place with a score of 18.

Key findings

The Americas saw a decline in press freedom last year. Chile and Guyana moved from "free" to "partly free" in status, Ecuador saw a "significant score decline", Cuba and Venezuela were noted for restrictions on the press. Mexico continued to be one of world's most dangerous places for journalists.

The United States experienced a slight decline in 2011 due to difficulties encountered by journalists covering the Occupy protests.

Asia-Pacific: North Korea continued to be categorised as "not free" and is the survey's poorest performer. The world's largest "not free" environment is China. Burma made "significant advances", Tonga was upgraded to "free", and Thailand moved into the "partly free" category. Improvements were seen in Indonesia, the Philippines and Nepal, with declines in India and Pakistan.

Central and Eastern Europe/Eurasia saw a "significant reduction in press freedom" during 2011. Hungary and Macedonia both "underwent large score declines", and Ukraine's score dropped. In Russia, "new media made some progress in mitigating the government's near-complete grip on major broadcast outlets". Notable improvements were made in Georgia, Kosovo, and Montenegro.

Middle East and North Africa: This area saw "huge improvements in 2011, but it remained the worst-performing part of the world". Libya, Tunisia, and Egypt all moved from "not free" to "partly free". Bahrain and Syria both experienced declines in press freedom. Conditions in Iran were still extremely restrictive.

Sub-Saharan Africa experienced "a marginal decline" in press freedom. Guinea fell from "partly free" to "not free". Uganda, Malawi, Ethiopia, and Angola all experienced score declines. South Africa deteriorated slightly due to the advancement of the controversial Protection of Information Bill. Zambia was upgraded to "partly free", and Niger and Sierra Leone achieved score improvements.

Western Europe: According to Freedom House, Western Europe "consistently boasted the highest level of press freedom worldwide, and its average score was mostly stable in 2011".

Italy "improved slightly" after the resignation of prime minister Silvio Berlusconi.

In the UK the "use of super injunctions and riot-related restrictions" caused a decline in press freedom.

Turkey's score worsened "as the government continued to harass and imprison critical journalists".

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