WASHINGTON — Press freedoms shrank worldwide for an eighth consecutive year in 2009, an advocacy group says, stalling or reversing the expansion of independent journalism that followed the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Only one in six people lives in a country with a free press today, with Asia-Pacific the only region to show improvement last year, the Washington-based Freedom House said in a report to be released today. The biggest setbacks occurred in Latin America and the former Soviet Union.

“When the Iranian Revolutionary Guards torture a journalist, or communist authorities in China imprison a blogger, or criminal elements in Russia assassinate yet another investigative reporter, it sends a clear message that every person fighting for basic rights is vulnerable to a similar fate,” said Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House.

Karin Karlekar, managing editor of the study, said while press freedoms expanded in the last years of the 20th century in many areas, they have contracted in the 21st. “Unfortunately, the positive changes seen in earlier decades have not been consolidated,” she said.

Governments such as China, Russia and Venezuela “have been systematically encroaching on what used to be the comparatively free environment of the Internet and news media,” said the report, titled “Freedom of the Press 2010.”

Instead, the report said the Internet in these countries is being flooded with anti-Western nationalistic views.

Russia remained one of the world’s most repressive and dangerous media environments, the report said.

In the Middle East, Iran registered the region’s biggest decline in media freedoms, with journalists suppressed after flawed presidential elections, according to Freedom House.

contrast, the report found, Israel’s media environment improved as restrictions imposed at the start of the 2008 war in Gaza eased.

The report identified 10 of the worst countries in terms of press freedom. They are, in alphabetical order, Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Eritrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.

“In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate,” the report said.


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