Reporters Without Borders issues its 2007 annual press freedom survey

The survey, published on 1 February, reports on press freedom in 98 countries and includes the main violations of journalists’ rights in 2006 and regional aspects of media and Internet freedom.

The report (in English, French, Spanish and Arabic) can be read at  and downloaded in its entirety or by region.

“The report lists the worst violations in repressive countries, including major culprits North Korea, Eritrea, Cuba and Turkmenistan, but also looks at democracies, where progress needs to be made too,” the organisation says.

“A disturbingly record number of journalists and media workers were killed or thrown in prison around the world in 2006 and we are already concerned about 2007, as six journalists and four media assistants have been killed in January alone,” the report’s introduction says.

“But beyond these figures is the alarming lack of interest (and sometimes even failure) by democratic countries in defending the values they are supposed to incarnate.”

“Almost everyone believes in human rights these days but amid the silences and behaviour on all sides, we wonder who now has the necessary moral authority to make a principled stand in favour of these freedoms.”

The publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed focused the world’s attention in 2006 on the issue of freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs. Democratic countries did not defend Denmark, whose embassies were attacked, or the journalists who were threatened and arrested. Europe especially seemed to choose silence for fear of offending Arab or Muslims regimes.

Media workers in the Middle East were once again the victims of the region’s chronic instability.  65 journalists and media assistants were killed in Iraq and kidnappings were more frequent there and in the Palestinian Territories. Despite repeated promises, the region’s governments have not introduced significantly greater democracy.

In Latin America, the murder of nearly a dozen journalists in Mexico with virtual impunity, the continued imprisonment of more than a score in Cuba and the deteriorating situation in Bolivia (nevertheless the best-ranked country of the South in the Reporters Without Borders annual press freedom index) are all signals to the international community to be very vigilant.

Press freedom violations in Asia peaked with 16 media workers killed, at least 328 arrested, 517 physically attacked or threatened and 478 media outlets censored in 2006. Censorship is very widespread and complete freedom to speak and write is rare in Asia.

Many African governments, especially those in the Horn of Africa, distrust media workers. The killers of journalists are also not being punished and are still being protected by governments and all-powerful politicians in Gambia, Burkina Faso and Democratic Republic of Congo.

Dictatorships also seem to be tightening their grip on the Internet and at least 60 people are in prison for posting criticism of the government online. China, the leading offender, is being copied by Vietnam, Syria, Tunisia, Libya and Iran and more and more bloggers and cyber-dissidents are in jail.

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