by John J. Metzler
Weirs Times Contributing Writer
UNITED NATIONS—The targeted killings of journalists, the suffocating censorship in many countries, and the widening governmental controls on media activities, characterize the contemporary media landscape in large parts of the world. Add the ghastly shock effect of beheadings of journalists in the Middle East by Islamic State or the barbaric attacks in the heart of Paris against the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo, or the pervasive intimidation against the investigative press in Mexico by drug lords, and the picture becomes more alarming.
To this backdrop comes the heavy hand of state censorship, internet interference and intimidation which remains widespread. A recent report also warns of the widening danger in such countries as Turkey where the “media has fallen into full compliance with the structures of power, most notably those of President Recep Tayyip Erdogan.”
In its annual survey “Attacks on the Press, Journalism on the World’s Front Lines,“ the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a respected media watchdog group, presents a disturbing account of the continuing deterioration of press freedoms globally. Yet in a special focus on the world’s ten most censored countries, the section investigates and charts the censorship policies by a number of regimes ranging from Azerbaijan to Mainland China and Vietnam.
Leading the list in the Top Ten of censorship include Eritrea, North Korea and Saudi Arabia.
The East African land of Eritrea, a one party dictatorship, allows only tightly controlled state run media and boasts the largest number of journalists in prison. Internet is available to only one percent of the population. What makes the situation worse is that Eritrea is largely unknown, isolated (it was once an Italian colony and part of Ethiopia) and thus almost totally airbrushed from mainstream human rights coverage.
North Korea needs no introduction. The retro-communist state promotes a cult- like adulation of the Kim regime through state run media. The Korean Central News Agency controls all media and there are no known dissident publications. In its breadth of control and surveillance North Korea would best be described as an Orwellian state.
Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Azerbaijan are the classic mix of authoritarianism and predictable media censorship. The Saudi authorities, fearing political spillover from the Arab Spring have according to the CPJ, “Punished the publication of any material deemed to contravene Sharia law” or impinge on state interests.
Vietnam also makes the sordid list. “Vietnam’s Communist Party run government allows no privately held print or broadcast outlets,” states CPJ adding, “The Central Propaganda Department holds mandatory weekly meetings with local newspaper, radio and TV editors to hand down directives. “ The Hanoi government is one of the world’s worst jailers of journalists.
The Islamic Republic of Iran comes in seventh as CPJ advises, “The government uses mass and arbitrary detention as a means of silencing dissent and forcing journalists into exile.” It’s no surprise that Iran has become one of the worst regimes when it comes to arresting and jailing the press. Significantly the Islamic Republic has one of the world’s toughest internet censorship programs as a way to stifle dissent and block information. CPJ stresses that since the election of the “reformist” President Hassan Rouhani “the situation has not improved” for the media.
The People’s Republic of China continues as one of the three leading jailers of journalists according to CPJ. Just last year a secret memo on censorship outlined tactics to “combat seven political perils,” and to make certain the role of the media is to support the Communist Party’s “unilateral rule.” Beijing is particularly concerned over monitoring China’s 642 million internet users, one of the world’s largest online communities. Dissident journalist Gao Yu has been arrested on trumped up charges.
Burma and Cuba round out the list of top ten media oppressors. Despite some political liberalization in recent years, Burma’s media remains tightly controlled, according to CPJ.
Cuba, despite some superficial political changes, “continues to have the most restricted climate for press freedom in the Americas.” Still CPJ adds that though the internet has opened “some space for critical reporting,” such blogs and websites are not available to the average Cuban. CPJ adds that while the government has for the most part done away with long term detentions of journalists, harassment and intimidation persist.
As the 18th century French playwright and satirist Pierre-Augustin Beaumarchais once wrote, “As long as I don’t write anything about the government, religion, politics, and other institutions, I am free to print anything.” Such satirical sentiments sum up media rights and growing perils in much of the world.
John J. Metzler is a United Nations correspondent covering diplomatic and defense issues. He is the author of Divided Dynamism: The Diplomacy of Separated Nations: Germany, Korea, China (2014).