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CPJ Report: The 10 Most Censored Countries
North Korea tops CPJ’s ‘Most Censored’ list
New York, May 2, 2006—North Koreans live in the most censored country in the world, a new analysis by the Committee to Protect Journalists has found. The world’s deepest information void, communist North Korea has no independent journalists, and all radio and television receivers sold in the country are locked to government-specified frequencies. Burma, Turkmenistan, Equatorial Guinea, and Libya round out the top five nations on CPJ’s list of the “10 Most Censored Countries.”
In issuing its report to mark World Press Freedom Day on May 3, CPJ called state-sponsored censorship one of the most urgent threats facing journalists worldwide. CPJ studied press freedom conditions in dozens of countries around the world to assess the access people have to independent information and the methods leaders use to stifle the news.
CPJ regional staff used their extensive knowledge of local press conditions and applied a rigorous set of criteria to determine the rankings of the most censored list. The criteria included state control of all media, the existence of formal censorship regulations, the use by the state of violence, imprisonment and harassment against journalists, jamming of foreign news broadcasts, and restrictions on private Internet access.
The other countries on the list are Eritrea, Cuba, Uzbekistan, Syria, and Belarus.
“People in these countries are virtually isolated from the rest of the world by authoritarian rulers who muzzle the media and keep a chokehold on information through restrictive laws, fear, and intimidation,” CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper said.
Patterns that emerge from CPJ’s analysis include:
Total control. Print and electronic media in all 10 countries are under heavy state control or influence. Some countries allow a few privately owned outlets to operate but most of these are in the hands of regime loyalists. In Libya, there are no independent broadcast or print media, an anachronism even by Middle East standards. Equatorial Guinea has one private broadcaster; its owner is the president’s son. In Burma, citizens risk arrest for listening to the BBC in public.
One-man-shows. Most of the countries on CPJ’s list are ruled by one man who has remained in power by manipulating the media and rigging any elections that are held. The media foster a cult of personality. On state television in Turkmenistan, “President for Life” Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov’s golden image is constantly displayed in profile at the bottom of the screen. State-run radio in Equatorial Guinea has described President Teodoro Obiang Nguema Mbasogo as “the country’s God.”
Use of the “Big Lie:” In North Korea, all “news” is positive. According to the country’s rigidly controlled media, North Korea has never suffered famine or poverty, and citizens would willingly sacrifice themselves for their leader. The official Korean Central News Agency said that leader Kim Jong Il is so beloved that after a deadly munitions train explosion in a populated area, people ran into buildings to save the ubiquitous portraits of the “Dear Leader” before they rescued their own family members.
Zero tolerance for negative coverage. In Uzbekistan, a government crackdown forced more than a dozen foreign correspondents to flee abroad after they covered a massacre of antigovernment protesters in Andijan in May 2005. Reporters covering opposition to Belarus’ President Aleksandr Lukashenko’s recent re-election were jailed and charged with crimes such as “hooliganism.” In Cuba, the government organizes “repudiation acts” for recalcitrant journalists; demonstrators surround the journalist’s home and prevent people from coming or going.
Cynical disregard for people’s welfare. Governments suppress news of the dangers and hardships faced by their citizens. North Korea covered up a famine that affected millions. Burma stifled coverage of the effects of the tsunami that hit the country in December 2004.
“By any international standard, the practices of these governments are unacceptable,” Cooper said. “We call on the leaders of these most censored countries to join the free world by abandoning these restrictive actions and allowing journalists to independently report the news and inform their citizens.”