World

Not much good news about press freedom, reporters group says

Dictatorships are predictably the worst offenders when it comes to press freedom, but democracies, too, need to make some improvements, Reporters Without Borders said in its 2007 report on press freedom, published Thursday.

Dictatorships are predictably the worst offenders when it comes to press freedom, but democracies, too,need tomake some improvements, Reporters Without Borders said in its 2007report on press freedom, published Thursday.

"Major culprits" include North Korea, Eritrea, Cuba and Turkmenistan, the group said.

But it also faults European countries for not speaking up when threats followed aDanish paper's publication ofcartoons of the Prophet Muhammad. The muted response to the killing of Russian reporter Anna Politkovskaya was also disappointing, the group said.

It suggested the European democracies wanted to avoid offending Arab nations in the first case and the Russian government, a major supplier of energy to Europe, in the second.

"So is there any cause for optimism? Not much," Secretary General Robert Ménard wrote.

While repressive regimes are successfully limiting access to certain kinds of internet information and blocking e-mails, dissidents and reporters are finding ways to get stories out.

Butas major web companies are co-operating with repressive governments, "we shall soon be in a world where all our communications are spied on," Julien Pain, head of the internet freedom desk, said in the report.

The reports covers dozens of countries.

Among other observations:

  • The U.S. "cannot be trusted" in issues of press freedom because reporters have been jailedfor refusing to reveal sources, and a cameramanhas been held foryears in the U.S. prison for terror suspects inGuantanamo Bay, Cuba.
  • Russia and China "are such serious violators of press freedom that it would be naive, even stupid, to expect them to play a positive role in freedom of expression."
  • Canada gets a short mention, because of Prime Minister Stephen Harper's dispute with the press gallery over who should control press conferences, and a law requiring reporters to reveal sources.

The study said that 2007 has started badly as six journalists and four assistants were killed in January alone, on top ofrecord numbers killed or jailed in 2006.

"Almost everyone believes in human rights these days but amid the silences and behaviour on all sides, we wonder who now has the necessary moral authority to make a principled stand in favour of these freedoms," the report said.

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