The Associated Press

WASHINGTON -- The number of countries with a free press continued a recent downward trend in the past year, including disappointing developments in states of the former Soviet bloc, according to a Freedom House report.

The report, being released Tuesday at the Freedom Forum here, judges 68 countries, or 36.6 percent of the 186 surveyed, to have free media as of the first quarter of 1994.

This compares to the high point of 39 percent in 1989, the year of communist collapse, 38 percent in 1992 and 37 percent in 1993.

The latest report said that 64 countries, 34.4 percent of those surveyed, the media are “partly free.” In 54 countries, or 29 percent, the press is “not free.”

The report said “a key indicator, journalists killed on the job, remained high at 76” in 1993. r

The changes in the latest report included Benin and Guyana moving from free to partly free and Belarus, Georgia and Kuwait moving from partly free to not free.

Latvia moved up from partly free, joining five other former Soviet states in the free category: the Czech Republic, Estonia, Hungary, Lithuania and Poland.

But the report added that “Poland is just barely in the free press camp. The Czech Republic and Hungary seem to be moving toward a partly free press.”

"After the euphoria of the bloodless revolution of 1989, there is disappointment for those who expected the introduction of press freedom in much of Eastern/Central Europe and states of the former Soviet Union,” the report said.

It said that creating independent, competing media is difficult in countries with no free market economy and that in many former communist countries Communist Party bureaucrats still operate major print and broadcast systems.

In six former Soviet bloc states the media are classified as not free: Azerbaijan, Belarus, Georgia, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan. The other former Soviet states are rated as partly free.

The countries were judged against four criteria in the Freedom House report: the influence of laws and administrative rules on the media, political pressure, economic influence, and overt repressive actions against journalists.

Five countries were given the “most free” designation: Australia, Belgium, Denmark, New Zealand and Norway, “because of the vibrancy, diversity and lack of government encumbrance.” These five and three others were rated ahead of the United States in press freedom.

In many African countries news media are regarded as extensions of state power, the report said. But Kenya, Malawi and Nigeria moved from not free to partly free, as did Indonesia in Asia.

"China is near the bottom of the not-free scale,” the report said. “But for how long?” l

The liberalizing trend that appeared before the Tiananmen Square massacre was squelched. “But the minds of young reporters are not frozen,” the report said. “They continue to test the fringes of consent. Some are beaten down. Others persist. And some practice writing between the lines almost as an art form.”

In the middle east change came slowly even after the Persian Gulf war, the report said, with grim repression of press freedom in Iraq, Iran and Saudi Arabia.

"Israel barely retains its free press status,” unique in the region, it said, because of military censorship and the willingness of editors to submit to government guidelines.

"If the treatment of journalists — foreign, Israeli and Palestinian — in the occupied territories were assessed here, Israel would not remain in the free press category,” it said.

The report was issued on the occasion of International Press Freedom Day. Read Next Article