Today, on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day, the Broadcasting Board of Governors reiterates its commitment to defending and celebrating the fundamental principles of press freedom around the world. According to Freedom House in its 2016 Freedom of the Press report, global press freedom has reached an all-time low, as “political, criminal and terrorist forces sought to co-opt or silence the media in their broader struggle for power.”
The “Worst of the Worst” in the Freedom House Press Freedom Rankings, released last week, are North Korea, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, Russian-occupied Crimea, Eritrea, Cuba, Belarus, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, and Syria. BBG networks inform, engage and connect with audiences in all of those countries.
North Korea (Press Freedom Score 97) – Recent reporting by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia on North Korea’s practice of sending thousands of its citizens to work in other countries has had a tremendous impact worldwide. VOA’s coverage of abusive practices against North Korean workers in Qatar was cited in a special United Nations human rights report submitted to the U.N. General Assembly. And thanks to RFA’s reporting on the illegal forced labor of North Koreans at health clinics in Africa, Tanzania’s government closed two North Korean clinics after RFA found the treatment provided by the medical staff is putting the health of Tanzanians at serious risk.
Turkmenistan (Press Freedom Score 96) — The importance of RFE/RL’s work in Turkmenistan was highlighted in a recent Washington Post editorial. Turkmen authorities are exerting tremendous pressure against RFE/RL contributors working in Turkmenistan; RFE/RL contributor Saparmamed Nepeskuliev has been held incommunicado since last summer and was sentenced to three years in prison on fabricated narcotics charges. The UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has ruled that Nepeskuliev’s deprivation of liberty is arbitrary for having peacefully exercised his right to freedom of expression as guaranteed by article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and article 19 of the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights.
Uzbekistan (Press Freedom Score 95) — In April 2016, RFE/RL’s Uzbek service posted a video of an unidentified police officer stepping on a woman’s face and kicking her. After posting the video, the service’s Facebook community identified the police officer, and he was summarily dismissed. He is the third police officer dismissed as a result of the Uzbek service’s reports in 2016.
Russia-occupied Crimea (Press Freedom Score 94) — RFE/RL’s Crimea Realities is one of the last sources of independent news in Russia-occupied Crimea. RFE/RL correspondents have been subjected to threats and harassment, including a recent intimidation campaign that has included an effort to shut down the popular website “Current Time,” a daily 30-minute Russian-language television news program jointly produced by RFE/RL and VOA. It was launched in October 2014 and continues to connect with audiences throughout Ukraine.
Eritrea (Press Freedom Score 94) — VOA’s Horn of Africa Service, which broadcasts in Amharic, Tigrigna and Afan Oromo, often covers issues related to press freedom and human rights in Eritrea and Ethiopia on radio, mobile and digital platforms. To mark World Press Freedom Day, that service has been focusing on Eritrean journalists who have been imprisoned without a trial for years.
Cuba (Press Freedom Score 91) — Because Facebook is not blocked in Cuba, the social network has become a popular destination for the uncensored programming created by the Office of Cuba Broadcasting. During President Obama’s visit to Cuba in March 2016, OCB’s Facebook Live posts successfully connected with millions of Cubans on the island, and the Martís Facebook audience nearly tripled in the week during the Obama trip.
Belarus (Press Freedom Score 91) — RFE/RL’s Belarusian Service recently covered a spike in the number of police brutality cases in the country, including the case of a man claiming that the police beat him to extort a confession of theft, as well as the case of a 21-year-old student who says a policemen broke his leg and nose after becoming irritated because he addressed them in the Belarusian language.
Iran (Press Freedom Score 90) — VOA’s Persian Service and RFE/RL’s Radio Farda provide timely and comprehensive multi-platform coverage in Farsi via TV, radio, satellite and new media. In April 2016, reports indicated that RFE/RL’s morning TV show Breakfast with News was subject to ground jamming from start to finish in Iran.
Syria (Press Freedom Score 90) — Alhurra Television and Radio Sawa provide unbiased and uncensored reporting on stories important to audiences in Syria. Alhurra’s documentary series Delusional Paradise, for example, often features Syrians that were forced to escape the country, after ISIL came in and took over huge swathes of territory. The show exposes the brutality and extremism of ISIL and gives a voice to families and communities in the Middle East victimized by the extremist group.