Press Freedom Took A Hit In 2001, Watchdog Says

by Reuters, May 2, 2002

PARIS (Reuters) - Press freedom took a turn for the worse last year and is set to suffer more as the U.S. "war on terrorism" pushes the media to take sides, the Reporters Without Borders press watchdog said on Thursday.

"Press freedom had a rough time in 2001," the Paris-based group said in its annual report. "On every continent, this basic right was harshly attacked, along with those who exercised it."

Thirty-one journalists were killed in 2001, eight of them in Afghanistan, compared with 32 in 2000, RSF said. There were significant increases in the number of journalists arrested, threatened and attacked, the report said.

In the West, tighter controls on the flow of information following the September 11 attacks on the United States had weakened the right of journalists in the U.S. and Canada not to reveal sources, RSF said.

In its war against what it calls 'the evil-doers', the Bush administration is little bothered by the means that are used," RSF said. "The news media are pressed to take sides and propaganda takes precedence over truth."

The enemy must be defeated and media that disagree must be crushed," it added. "Such black-and-white attitudes are worrying."

RSF's report reinforced the message of another media watchdog, the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, which last month said journalists around the world faced a "global press freedom crisis" as a result of the war on terrorism.

Listing some pluses for press freedom in 2001, RSF said pressure from strict security laws and secret police had eased in Chile and Peru.

In Serbia, freedom of information accompanied the shift to democracy after the fall from power of Slobodan Milosevic in October 2000. Early statements from the new rulers in Afghanistan were promising.

But nearly a third of the world's people still live in countries where press freedom is heavily restricted, with China the biggest offender, RSF said. Syria, Iraq, Burma and Saudi Arabia all kept "absolute" control of the flow of information, RSF said.


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