Eritrea `most censored` country: CPJ

Thu, May 3rd, 2012 1:37 pm BdST


New York, May 3 ( -- Eritrea, the Horn of Africa nation, has topped the list of the countries with strictest press restrictions by 'shutting out' international media and its 'dictatorial controls' on domestic news sources.

It has pushed down the former censorship leader, North Korea, which topped the Committee to Protect Journalists' previous report in 2006. This year's list also includes Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Belarus.

The New York-based group published its report on Wednesday, a day before the World Press Freedom Day.

May 3 is being observed as the World Press Freedom Day across the world with this year's theme of "New Voices: Media Freedom Helping to Transform Societies".
The day was proclaimed by the UN General Assembly in December 1993, following the recommendation of UNESCO's General Conference.
The CPJ report quoted an exiled Eritrean journalist, who requested anonymity, saying, "Every time [a journalist] had to write a story, they arrange for interview subjects and tell you specific angles you have to write on."

"We usually wrote lots about the president so that he's always in the limelight," the journalist added.

It also said that no foreign reporters were allowed to enter the African nation and the government strictly controlled the domestic media, "Ministry of Information officials direct every detail of coverage."

"In the name of stability or development, these regimes suppress independent reporting, amplify propaganda and use technology to control rather than empower their own citizens," UK-based newspaper The Guardian quoted CPJ's executive director Joel Simon as saying.

"Journalists are seen as a threat and often pay a high price for their reporting. But because the internet and trade have made information global, domestic censorship affects people everywhere."

"North Korea, which topped CPJ's previous list of most censored countries, published in 2006, remains an extraordinarily secretive place with nearly all domestic news content supplied by the official Korean Central News Agency," the report reads.

However, it also said that the censorship has relaxed somewhat this year, "The Associated Press this year opened a bureau in the capital, Pyongyang, and a Japanese editor is working with a handful of volunteers to document daily life in North Korea and smuggle out the recordings."

"But issues with vast worldwide implications�including North Korea's long-standing bid to build nuclear weapons and its new political power structure�remain hidden beneath severe censorship."

The report also turned its attention to Syria and Iran. Both the countries have seen a rise in censorship.

Syria, which was ninth on CPJ's 2006 list, went up to number-3, while Iran made its way into the list and up to number-4 this year.

"By barring international media from entering and reporting freely and by attacking its own citizen journalists, Syria has sought to impose a news media blackout on a year-long military crackdown that has roiled the international community," CPJ said in its report.

It quoted Eiad Shurbaji, a Syrian journalist who fled the country in January, as saying: "The censorship of the media existed far before the revolution, but it has increased since because [President Bashar] al-Assad wants to convey a particular picture to the outside world that the regime is fighting off terrorists who are causing the unrest."

"Media censorship played a huge role in keeping Assad in power," he added.

Meanwhile the report attributes Iran's success in the list to "mixed high-technology techniques such as Web blocking with brute-force tactics such as mass imprisonment of journalists to control the flow of information and obfuscate details of its own nuclear program."

Fifth in position is the Equatorial Guinea, "where all media is controlled, directly or indirectly, by President Teodoro Obiang.

Uzbekistan and Myanmar follow Guinea closely, the first for its lack of independent press and harassment and prosecution of journalists contributing to foreign outlets

Myanmar's place in the list was confirmed for its "series of reforms [that] have not extended to rigid censorship laws."

Saudi Arabia, "which, like other Middle Eastern countries, has tightened restrictions in response to political unrest," comes eighth.

Cuba, "where the Communist Party controls all domestic media" and Belarus, "where the most recent of many crackdowns by Aleksandr Lukashenko has sent the remnants of independent media underground" ends the list.

Summing up on these countries, the CPJ said that the restrictions stretch 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."

All these countries have some form of authoritarian rule and their leaders are in power by 'dint of monarchy, family dynasty, coup d'�tat, rigged election, or some combination thereof', the report claimed.

North Korea, Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, Libya, Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria and Belarus were the countries that topped 2006's list.