In a European democratic society or even elsewhere, in any democratic society, it seems unthinkable that journalists would have to submit work to state censors before publication. But for journalists from Burma, a country in Southeast Asia, this was a normal process they had to go through before publishing any newspaper. The good news is that starting with 1st of April, private daily newspapers will be published without censorship. This marks the end of a period of 49 years, which began 1964 when the military rule forced to shut down any private newspaper. Taking into consideration the intensely violent political and social past that burdens Burma, with bloody civil wars and inter-ethnic violence, it might not be surprising that foreign journalists needed a special travel permit in order to attend areas in which Burma’s civil wars were still being fought. Burma went through a series of radical changes in 2012 and moved up to the 151th place on the 2013 World Press Freedom Index. Journalists have been released from military jails, and legislative reforms have taken steps towards the liberalization of media.
Press freedom across the world
The 2013 World Press Freedom Index shows that the ranking of countries is no longer simply the result of their internal struggles or stable political climate, but reflects more the attitudes of governments towards media freedom. On the first positions for this Index we have Finland, followed by the Netherlands and Norway, while on the last three positions we have the same countries as last year, namely: Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
The conclusion that can be drawn is quite an obvious one, namely that democracies provide the enhancement of human rights and political and civil freedoms, whereas in dictatorships these rights are not only denied, but are inexistent from the beginning so that the regime does not consider it denies anything since there is nothing right from the start.
Conflicts that influence media freedom
2012 has been filled with protests and regimes changings all over the world: Tunisia, Egypt and Libya are examples for protests leading to political changes; while in Syria uprisings and repression are still happening, making Syria the deadliest country for journalists. This trend is worrying according to advocates of media freedom, because press freedom often acts as a safety belt in the political environment, ensuring not only the communication and expression of opinions through media, but most importantly transparency at a societal and political level. Freedom of the press in non-democratic countries is an extremely sensitive topic, since the government strictly controls the access to information , and cuts off the means through which society was supposed to “breathe” freedom and transparency. The goal of authoritarian regimes is to weaken those elements that represent the most important threat to the corrupt rule such as free press, rule of law and the civil society groups.
According to the data compiled by the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), Syria and Somalia, as a consequence of their armed conflicts, have been the most dangerous places for journalists in 2012: Sixty-eight journalists and media workers were being killed worldwide, with nearly a half of them in Syria and Somalia.
Most non-democratic societies simply use their control systems in order to promote propaganda while brutally supressing any other forms of media. Journalists working in these non-democratic countries are aware that there are high chances of them being threatened, kidnapped, tortured or even assassinated
A set based on five year of comparative data shows that there were extremely polarized declines for freedom of the press and expression, freedom of assembly and the rights of NGOS, while indicators concerning elections and political pluralism did not see notable improvements or declines.
Press freedom: A guarantee for human rights
While some countries have gone on an ascending path of press freedom, some went to worse conditions, particularly in regions with regional conflicts and warfare troubles. Still, press freedom remains one of the most important and reliable guarantees of human rights and the most essential element for encouraging the development of a cohesive democracy and a healthy political environment. Censorship and the control of information affect rule of law and help corruption flourish. A responsible and transparent media, however, ensures the flow of information and the exposition of citizens’ opinions and wishes, while the government is accountable in front of them. The most difficult challenge that media has to face nowadays, despite the growing technology and interconnectedness, is to find new ways to affirm itself in countries where the press is controlled, and to have a firm stance in those countries where human rights are just a concept to be found in history books.