In 1993, the United Nations General Assembly designated May 3 as World Press Freedom Day to underscore the importance of a free press as a foundation for freedom of expression and other human rights. The date marks the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, the work of the participants in the UN/UNESCO Seminar on Promoting an Independent and Pluralistic African Press in 1991. As the Declaration proclaimed, "the establishment, maintenance and fostering of an independent, pluralistic and free press is essential to the development and maintenance of democracy in a nation, and for economic development."
On the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued a special report on the "10 Most Censored Countries," the first such report since 2006. Topping the list are Eritrea, North Korea, and Syria. Eritrea was cited for its extensive and oppressive government-imposed controls on all media in the country. North Korea, which was ranked first in 2006, also imposes strong centralized control over all news coverage, but the CPJ notes that the Associated Press has been permitted to open a bureau in Pyongyang this year. Syria jumped from ninth to third on the list due to its efforts to impose a news blackout on the country as the government of Bashir al-Assad attempts to suppress widespread opposition to his rule.
Here's the complete list:
- North Korea
- Equatorial Guinea
- Saudi Arabia
The CPJ report says this about the ten countries on the list:
The 10 most restricted countries employ a wide range of censorship techniques, from the sophisticated blocking of websites and satellite broadcasts by Iran to the oppressive regulatory systems of Saudi Arabia and Belarus; from the dominance of state media in North Korea and Cuba to the crude tactics of imprisonment and violence in Eritrea, Uzbekistan, and Syria.
One trait they have in common is some form of authoritarian rule. Their leaders are in power by dint of monarchy, family dynasty, coup d'état, rigged election, or some combination thereof. . . .
Lagging economic development is another notable trend among heavily censored nations. Of the 10 most censored countries, all but two have per capita income around half, or well below half, of global per capita income, according to World Bank figures for 2010, the most recent available. The two exceptions are Saudi Arabia and Equatorial Guinea, where oil revenues lead to much higher per capita income than the global level. But both of those countries are beset by vast economic inequities between leaders and citizens.
UPDATE: Amnesty International offers a way to take action on behalf of some of the many journalists who have been imprisoned for independent reporting in states with heavy press censorship. Go here and take a few minutes to help the cause of press freedom.