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DEVELOPMENT REPORT - Press Freedom Still Out of Reach in Many Countries

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This is the VOA Special English Development Report.

On December tenth, nineteen forty-eight, the United Nations approved the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

Article nineteen says everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression and to hold opinions without interference. Also included is the freedom to receive and share information and ideas through any media, including across national borders.

So where does press freedom stand almost sixty years later?

Members of
Members of "Reporters Without Borders" demonstrating in Paris, July, 2006

Reporters Without Borders rated one hundred sixty-eight nations in its two thousand six Press Freedom Index. The Paris-based media rights group said North Korea, Turkmenistan and Eritrea were the worst violators. Next came Cuba, Burma, Iran, Saudi Arabia, Ethiopia and Nepal.

The ten countries rated most repressive were the same as last year except for two. Ethiopia and Saudi Arabia moved into the bottom ten, while Libya and Vietnam moved up.

Four countries shared the top rating: Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands. Last year, seven northern European nations were all number one, including Denmark.

This year Denmark is in nineteenth place with Bosnia-Herzegovina, New Zealand and Trinidad and Tobago.

The drop is related to the publication of the Prophet Mohammed cartoons in Denmark last year. Reporters Without Borders noted that journalists had to have police protection because of threats.

And the group expressed concern about weakening of press freedom in France, the United States and Japan.

France is down five places to thirty-fifth, along with Australia, Bulgaria and Mali. The United States fell nine places, to fifty-third, along with Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. And Japan fell fourteen places to fifty-one on the list.

This was the fifth year of the Press Freedom Index. Two countries moved into the top twenty for the first time: Bosnia and Bolivia. Bolivia, in sixteenth place, was rated highest among less-developed countries.

Ghana took a big jump to thirty-fourth. But three African countries were rated higher: Benin, Namibia and Mauritius.

One of the biggest improvements on the index was Mauritania, up sixty-one places in the past two years. Reporters Without Borders say a government overthrow in August of last year ended heavy restrictions on local media.

The index is based on information from free-speech groups, reporters, researchers, judges and human rights activists.

And that's the VOA Special English Development Report, written by Jill Moss. I'm Steve Ember.

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