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Press freedoms slipping, report says

Independent watchdog downgrades press status from free to partly free

Daily newspapers at a stall (file photo) Daily newspapers at a stall (file photo)
  • Stephen Hong, Seoul
  • Korea
  • May 4, 2011
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An independent US-based watchdog yesterday downgraded press freedom in the country from “free” to “partly free,” citing increased government interference which Catholic journalists have also criticized.

In its annual report on freedom of the press released yesterday, Freedom House said media freedom around the world had reached its lowest point in over a decade and that "only one in six people lived in countries with a free press."

The report included South Korea among countries that experienced "significant declines" in press freedom in 2010.

Contributing factors, according to the report, are an increase in official censorship as well as government attempts to influence news and information content from media outlets.

Over the past several years, an increasing number of online comments have been removed for expressing either pro–North Korean or anti–South Korean views, it added.

The current conservative government has also interfered in the management of major broadcast media, with allies of President Lee Myung-bak receiving senior posts at large media companies despite the objections of journalists, said the report.

There is government "suppression of the press,” said Aloysius Ma Sung-yeol, managing editor of the Daegu archdiocese-run weekly, Catholic Times.

It should not happen in this democratic country, he added.

Father Peter Kim Young-chun, chief manager at the Seoul archdiocese-run Pyeonghwa Broadcasting Corporation, said it is "very sad" the country's press freedoms have declined because of the government's increasing interference.

Meanwhile, the report said North Korea is among the world’s 10 worst-rated countries where independent media is either non-existent or barely able to operate and where the press acts as a mouthpiece for the regime.

According to the Freedom House report, of the 196 countries and territories assessed during 2010, 68 countries were rated “free,” 65 were “partly free” and 63 “not free.”

Freedom House, founded in 1941, has been issuing an annual press freedom report since 1980.

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