Eritrea ‘most censored’ country – global media watchdog

KD Suarez
African country topples North Korea in list of countries most notorious for censorship, media restrictions

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad (L) and his Eritrean counterpart Issaias Afeworki (front R) review the honour guard upon the latter's arrival at Tehran on May 19, 2008. Both Iran and Eritrea are part of the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) list of most censored countries, released May 2, 2012. AFP PHOTO/ATTA KENARE

MANILA, Philippines – If you think press freedom is most restricted in North Korea, think again.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) named the east African country of Eritrea as the most censored country in the world, topping the Hermit Kingdom this year.

In a report released Wednesday, May 2, on the eve of World Press Freedom Day, the CPJ said Eritrea has emerged as the world’s most censored country, based on their analysis of press restrictions globally.

North Korea came in second this year, followed by Syria, Iran, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Myanmar, Saudi Arabia, Cuba, and Belarus.

CPJ said the “vast restrictions” imposed on the press in North Korea, Syria, and Iran pose “enormous implications” on political and nuclear stability.

“The 10 most restricted countries employ a wide range of censorship techniques, 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,” the international watchdog group said.

These countries, the CPJ said, share some common traits: some form of authoritarian rule or disputed legitimacy of the top leadership and lagging economic development.

Tight control

Why did this small country, located at the Horn of Africa along the Red Sea, become the worst place for press freedom?


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“No foreign reporters are granted access to Eritrea, and all domestic media are controlled by the government. Ministry of Information officials direct every detail of coverage,” the CPJ said in its report.

“Every time [a journalist] had to write a story, they arrange for interview subjects and tell you specific angles you have to write on,” the CPJ quoted an Eritrean journalist on exile, speaking anonymously.

If a journalist is suspected of sending information outside of the country, they are jailed without a specific charge.

The Internet, meanwhile, can only be accessed through the state-owned EriTel, and access is limited to those who can afford it.

Eritrea is ruled by President Isaias Afewerki, who has been in power since he was elected in 1993.

Improvements

Among the 10 countries identified, Cuba and Myanmar were cited for dropping several places in the list.

Previously on number 2, Myanmar’s slide to number 7 was attributed to some loosening of restrictions on reporting, particularly by foreign correspondents.

Meanwhile, in Cuba, an emerging community of independent bloggers helped improve its ranking, from 7 to 9.

The release of numerous imprisoned journalists also contributed to the two countries’ improved review by the CPJ.

Meanwhile, several addition countries are being monitored for their heavy censorship. These include Turkmenistan, China, Ethiopia, Vietnam, Sudan, and Azerbaijan.

China was also singled out by the CPJ, saying that despite some news organizations and Internet users trying to push the limits of censorship, the Asian giant is a “model for censorship regimes” elsewhere, and is known to export censorship technology.

The list was determined by the organization according to 15 benchmarks, including internet restrictions, media ownership levels, security of journalists, censorship of information from outside, and presence of foreign correspondents.

For this, the group said they did not include Somalia and large parts of Mexico in their analysis, due to the fact that journalists in these areas “practice self-censorship in the face of extralegal violence.”

Somalia is considered a “failed state,” with civil strife a daily part of life, while the violent drug wars in Mexico is affecting media work there.

The CPJ is an independent nonprofit that promotes press freedom worldwide. It is based in New York City. The group has been publishing its list of most censored countries since 2006. – Rappler.com