's Comparative Politics/Democracies Today: The Freedom House Index

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NOTE: For the previous 39 years, Freedom House has published an annual report on the political rights and civil liberties of (what is now) 95 countries and 14 disputed territories. In addition to 40 and 60 point scales on political rights and civil liberties, respectively, Freedom House also looks at the following subcategories:

■ Participate freely in the political process;

■ Vote freely in legitimate elections;

■ Have representatives that are accountable to them;

■ Exercise freedoms of expression and belief;

■ Be able to freely assemble and associate;

■ Have access to an established and equitable system of rule of law;

■ Enjoy social and economic freedoms, including equal access to economic opportunities and the right to hold private property.

The following is taken from a Freedom House Report on media/press freedoms.


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About Freedom House

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Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization that supports the expansion of freedom around the world. Freedom House supports democratic change, monitors freedom, and advocates for democracy and human rights. Since its founding in 1941 by prominent Americans concerned with the mounting threats to peace and democracy, Freedom House has been a vigorous proponent of democratic values and a steadfast opponent of dictatorships of the far left and the far right. Eleanor Roosevelt and Wendell Willkie served as Freedom House’s first honorary co-chairpersons. Today, the organization’s diverse Board of Trustees is composed of a bipartisan mix of business and labor leaders, former senior government officials, scholars, and journalists who agree that the promotion of democracy and human rights abroad is vital to America’s interests.


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In some parts of the world, the threats to press freedom are explicit and often violent. Journalists are murdered or imprisoned, states maintain strict media monopolies, and domestic audiences are cut off from foreign news sources. Such unambiguously hostile conditions typically elicit strong responses from international advocacy groups and democracies that are committed to defending freedom of expression. However, in a much broader range of countries, governments are using the more subtle tools of media regulation to restrict press freedom, maintaining a veneer of legality and pluralism that is less likely to draw attention or criticism from abroad. Manipulation of the regulatory framework allows leaders to either tolerate or rein in influential news outlets depending on the political situation, and permits even democratically elected governments to fortify themselves against future electoral competition.

This special report describes the primary types of media regulation that are used to restrict press freedom, including:

 statutory controls on licensing and registration;

 the creation of nominally independent regulatory bodies with built-in avenues for political influence;

 legal imposition of vague or burdensome content requirements

Official actions sometimes represent the normal application of highly restrictive laws, while in other cases executive or judicial authorities act arbitrarily, outside the bounds of the law, or in an overtly politicized manner. Government efforts to promote statutory regulation can be particularly effective when self-regulatory mechanisms like media councils or ombudsmen are nonexistent or perceived as weak or underutilized.

Through a detailed examination of such threats in eight different national media environments—Ecuador, Georgia, Indonesia, Lebanon, Pakistan, South Africa, Uganda, and Zimbabwe—this study assesses the growing danger they pose to media freedom worldwide and provides recommendations on how to counter the negative trend.

Historically, some degree of regulation has been imposed on all types of media, but broadcast media have usually been subject to a wider range of government controls, including more stringent licensing rules, tighter restrictions on content, and limitations on private or foreign ownership. This discrepancy can be attributed in part to the argument that while the number and character of print outlets are limited only by demand and financing, broadcast media rely on the airwaves, a finite public resource, meaning access must be parceled out and regulated by the state.

One must distinguish between regulation that is minimal—for example, a pro forma requirement to simply register a new outlet—and regulation that entails extensive, broadly worded, or onerous licensing requirements, which can be enforced selectively as a method of control. In freer countries, the predominantly private print media are generally unregulated or self-regulated, and both private and public-service broadcast media have traditionally been subject to limited state regulation. In less free media environments, print media outlets are often subject to state-imposed statutory regulation, while the broadcast sector in many cases remains mostly or entirely under state control.

In addition to the technical differences between print and broadcast media that have led to greater regulation of the latter, many governments have regarded broadcast outlets as a greater potential threat, largely because of their ability to overcome literacy barriers and reach larger audiences. Broadcast media can also transmit live events, leaving little opportunity for the authorities to censor information after the fact. Such concerns have led incoming or maturing authoritarian regimes to make dominance of the national broadcast sector a high priority.

For example, after taking office as president of Russia in 2000, Vladimir Putin moved to assert control over broadcast media through coerced buyouts, a campaign of intimidation against billionaire businessmen with media assets, and concerted efforts to purge foreign-produced content from many radio stations. More recently, the government of President Hugo Chávez in Venezuela refused to renew the terrestrial broadcast license of the popular Radio Caracas Television (RCTV), accusing the outlet of supporting a failed coup attempt and thus breaching broadcast regulations. The closure of RCTV has been followed by the withdrawal of dozens of private radio licenses. Similar approaches have prevailed in other parts of the former Soviet Union and in the Middle East, with governments maintaining a firmer regulatory grip on broadcasting than on print.

The increased manipulation of regulatory controls in recent years is in many ways a response to a longer-term trend of diversification of broadcast media, which has been reflected in successive editions of Freedom House’s annual Freedom of the Press report. In some cases, as part of broader democratic openings or economic privatization programs over the last two decades, governments have introduced new laws allowing the establishment of private outlets where previously only state-run broadcasters were permitted. Other factors include the spread of international or regional satellite broadcasters, as well as nationally focused satellite stations that operate outside the target country’s borders. No longer inclined or able to engage in direct, across-the-board censorship, the authorities in many countries have turned to more selective controls, using licensing and regulatory frameworks in a politicized way to cripple only those outlets that are seen as a threat to the government.

Methods of Control

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The use of regulatory mechanisms to restrict media freedom can take a number of forms. Official control over the regulatory process can be built into the legal framework from the outset, through either restrictive licensing laws or the processes for appointing the leadership of a regulatory body. However, even in countries with a relatively well-constructed legal framework, the laws can be selectively applied or misused to close critical outlets, and political leaders can exert informal, extralegal influence over nominally independent regulators.

Licensing Rules

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The most overt form of media restriction entails outright state monopolies. While these still exist in a number of highly repressive media environments, the majority of countries now permit some form of private ownership of broadcast media. In most cases, private outlets exist alongside state-run counterparts, although the private-public ratio varies by country and region.1 It is important to note that state ownership does not necessarily lead to politicized control over content and the loss of editorial independence. In practice, however, truly independent public-service broadcasting has been difficult to achieve except in democratic countries with a long history of such institutions. In Eastern Europe and Southern Africa, for instance, nominally independent public broadcasters that were formed in the 1990s following major democratic openings remain subject to pressure from government officials and political parties.

Licensing is the primary method by which the initial establishment of private media outlets can be regulated. International best practice standards call for minimal notification or registration requirements, which should not be used as a basis for denying an outlet permission to function or for governing content. Licensing of print media is rare in more open environments, while in more restrictive media environments print media are subject to licensing procedures that range from the simple, as in Pakistan, to the extremely onerous, as in Zimbabwe.

A case in point is the South African Broadcasting Corporation (SABC), a state-owned entity that is broadly perceived as presenting viewpoints that align with those of the ruling African National Congress (ANC) party. In more restrictive media environments, state-run media dominate the landscape and serve as mouthpieces for the government.

Licensing systems are also sometimes imposed on journalists themselves. Best practice calls for open access to the profession, with no licensing process or other criteria—such as membership in a particular professional body or educational credentials—for aspiring journalists.2 Again, such requirements are less common in more open and democratic media environments, but they exist to varying degrees in transitional or authoritarian media systems, and in some cases they are used as an overt method of control over the media. A recent report for the Center for International Media Assistance found that in over quarter of the more than 100 countries examined, the state plays some role in licensing journalists.3

By contrast, most countries, including democratic states, have traditionally featured significant regulation of private broadcast outlets, typically including licensing and frequency allocations by an official regulatory body. Ideally, an independent, nonpartisan entity adjudicates requests for licenses and spectrum according to a clearly defined legal process, and in a transparent and unbiased manner, so that media diversity is not compromised.4 Regulatory bodies following this model are common in North America and Western Europe, as well as in a number of other democratic settings. For example, in Mali, while the law requires broadcasters to be licensed in order to receive a frequency and operate, the rules are straightforward, bureaucratic procedures and financial hurdles are minimal, and the regulatory body in charge functions independently.5

However, in less open systems, laws regulating broadcast licensing can provide ample opportunities to restrict the dissemination of news and information. Exorbitant licensing fees can bar new entrants to the market, perpetuating the dominance of state media. In Jordan, a new licensing system that took effect in 2003 required high fees only for channels that intended to broadcast political news; as a result, most new outlets air only music and other entertainment programming.6

Licenses may also be denied to outlets with foreign ownership, and such rules are sometimes enacted to target certain troublesome news sources. As part of a sweeping “media industry development” decree issued in Fiji in June 2010, foreign ownership in any outlet— whether print or broadcast—was capped at 10 percent, leading to the forced sale of the Fiji Times, one of the country’s oldest independent newspapers and a strong voice for democratic values.7

Geographical restrictions similarly serve to limit the reach and influence of private outlets. A government may retain for itself the right to operate outlets with a national reach, allowing smaller private outlets to operate only in certain geographic areas or with a limited reach because of the equipment or technology available to them. Additional burdensome measures could include requirements that force an outlet to reregister every year, or to provide excessive personal information about the owners or staff when applying for a license or registration.

Licensing restrictions that focus on content, as with the Jordanian system described above or Lebanon’s restrictions on political news content, allow governments to foster a commercially vibrant private media sector while curtailing critical news coverage. In the most extreme cases, outlets might be legally required to submit planned programming for preapproval and possible censorship by the state. In Syria, for instance, the Ministry of Information closely monitors content to ensure adherence to government policies and directives.

In other settings, content restrictions may feature a prohibition on broadcasting news, or conversely, a requirement to broadcast government-produced news material. In India, private FM radio stations are not allowed to broadcast news content, while in neighboring Bangladesh, private outlets are required to air selected government-produced news segments (in addition to their own programming) as a condition of their operation. In Venezuela, all registered broadcast outlets are required to carry the president’s speeches simultaneously and whenever they occur. The cable arm of RCTV in Venezuela was suspended for more than a year and allowed back on the air in early 2010 only after it agreed to this condition.8

Legal restrictions on broadcast content can also contain provisions that are overly vague, giving the regulator wide discretion in its enforcement decisions. In recent years, a number of countries—including India, Pakistan, and Turkey—have tried to regulate coverage of terrorism, particularly material that could be seen as assisting or glorifying terrorist acts. However, industry groups in the countries involved have raised concerns that broadly worded strictures could be misapplied.

One such measure already in force is Venezuela’s 2004 Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television, and Electronic Media, which prohibits broadcast stations from airing content that could “promote, defend, or incite breaches of public order” or is “contrary to the security of the nation.”9 A December 2010 amendment to the Organic Law of Telecommunications extended the authority of the country’s National Telecommunications Commission (CONATEL) to withdraw the license of any broadcaster that violated the law more than once, and shortened license terms from 20 to 15 years; however, a controversial provision that would have required owners of outlets to reregister with CONATEL in person was withdrawn from the final bill.

Laws on Regulatory Bodies

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Legislation establishing an official regulatory body would ideally ensure its independence from the political branches of government, political parties, and economic interests. This means insulating the regulator from improper influence over its membership, appointments, financing, and decision-making process.10 However, these laws can also be crafted in a way that both limits the regulatory body’s autonomy from the outset and grants it such authority that the government can use it to ensure official control over important parts of the media landscape.

Botswana’s December 2008 Media Practitioners Act established a nominally independent Media Council tasked with upholding ethical standards and ensuring media freedom. However, the legislation did not contain supporting provisions to ensure the council’s independence; in fact, it is financially dependent on the government, and its members are all appointed by the minister of communication. This compromised body was nevertheless granted broad powers over the accreditation of journalists and the supervision of media conduct.

A number of recent laws demonstrate various governments’ intent to control the broadcast sector, either directly or through an obedient regulatory body. For example, the Kenya Communications (Amendment) Act of 2009 gave the minister of information the power to exercise editorial control over broadcast content and to seize broadcast stations and equipment. It also established a communications commission appointed by the minister, including four sitting government officials, plus a chairman appointed by the president. The commission would have the power to issue broadcast licenses and impose heavy fines and prison sentences for various offenses.11 The law was heavily criticized, and may be ameliorated by draft legislation intended to bring existing statutes into compliance with the new 2010 constitution by strengthening the independence of Kenya’s regulatory bodies.12

Such moves to ensure control over the regulator through legislation can occur even in a relatively well-established democracy. In the second half of 2010, as part of a wide-ranging package of changes to the media laws, Hungary enacted legislation that merged two existing entities into a new National Media and Infocommunications Authority (NMHH). The prime minister was granted the power to appoint the president of the NMHH for a nine-year term, without limits on reappointment. The NMHH president also chairs a new, ostensibly autonomous Media Council, whose four other members are appointed by the parliament; the ruling party currently holds a two-thirds legislative majority. The Media Council has the authority to censure and impose high fines on media outlets for broadly worded content violations, including failure to provide “balanced coverage.”13 All types of media, including online outlets, will be required to register with the NMHH. These changes were criticized by the opposition, press freedom groups, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe (OSCE). Some provisions were softened by amendments passed in March 2011 after an outcry from the European Union, but press freedom groups and the OSCE representative on media freedom continued to express concerns that the laws had the potential to curb diverse and critical views.14

It is important to note that even when good laws have been passed, implementation may lag severely, creating a vacuum of power and responsibilities. In Zambia, legislation to establish an Independent Broadcasting Authority (IBA) was passed in 2002, but the regulator has not yet been set up, and the Ministry of Information has apparently taken an ad hoc approach to both granting and threatening to suspend or withdraw broadcast licenses.15 In Georgia, gaps between the law and practice have led to the regulatory body’s independence being compromised and it becoming unduly subject to political influence. And in Indonesia, the government has reclaimed powers granted by law to nominally independent regulatory bodies for both print and broadcast, creating a situation where the government has de facto control over the regulatory process.

Arbitrary or Extralegal Regulation

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While governments often restrict press freedom using regulatory and licensing procedures that are clearly defined by law, they can also act on an arbitrary or extralegal basis. Common tactics include bureaucratic obstruction, threatened or actual suspensions without a firm legal justification, sudden bans on certain types of content, and circumvention of established regulatory systems by other arms of the government.

Bureaucratic foot-dragging can be an effective method of state control over the media space, and is often used to withhold licenses from private outlets. This tactic has been employed against print outlets; the Daily News in Zimbabwe, which had been shut down in 2003, was forced to wait until 2010 to reopen despite court rulings in its favor. But more examples can be found in the broadcast sector. In Ethiopia, for instance, the 1999 Broadcasting Proclamation provided for the licensing of private radio broadcasters, but the government did not open the licensing authority until 2002, and it had only awarded licenses to two private FM stations by 2006.16 A third station licensed in 2009 limits its content to music and other entertainment, avoiding any political topics, according to IREX’s 2009 Media Sustainability Index.

Similarly, in the decade prior to Tunisia’s recent revolution, the country’s National Frequencies Agency licensed just one television station and three radio broadcasters, all of which were owned by business interests close to the government, while repeatedly ignoring applications from independent outlets.17 And in December 2010 in Armenia, the presidentially appointed regulator denied a 13th consecutive license request from A1+, an independent television station whose license was rescinded in 2002, despite a 2008 ruling in its favor by the European Court of Human Rights.18 In these cases, as in a number of other countries, favoritism was shown to progovernment applicants, while requests by independent outlets were rejected or pointedly ignored.

The threat of license revocation or suspension is another tactic that has been used frequently to harass critical media. An outlet may be threatened with the loss of its license if it is deemed to have contravened vaguely written laws on content, or if it simply crosses the government’s unofficial redlines on acceptable coverage. In some cases the reason for the suspension or withdrawal of the license is never made clear. One recent example comes from Ukraine, where in August 2010 two independent television companies had a number of their licenses withdrawn due to alleged irregularities in their initial allocation. However, Valeriy Khoroshkovsky, the owner of a rival media group and the head of the Ukrainian Security Service, was accused by one of the stations of influencing the decision.19 License renewals have also been denied for political reasons in Ecuador and Bangladesh. Even stations that are not directly affected by such decisions may engage in self-censorship to avoid similar repercussions for critical coverage, damaging the diversity and vibrancy of the media sector as a whole.

Actual shutdowns of media outlets are sometimes processed through legal channels but more commonly occur as the result of an extralegal executive decision. While they are often temporary, the closures occasionally become permanent. They are frequently imposed in periods of political or social tension, such as during election campaigns, protest movements, or outbreaks of ethnic or religious violence.

For example, in November and December 2010, regulators in Egypt shut down or otherwise censored a number of television stations based on complaints filed by the minister of information or alleged violations of election guidelines.20 Four satellite television stations were also closed in October for breaches of unspecified license terms.21 The Rwandan government employed similar tactics prior to elections held in August 2010. In late July, the regulator published a list of several dozen print and broadcast outlets that would be “recognized” by the government, rendering approximately 30 others illegal, including several leading print outlets. The banned publications and stations were then ordered to reapply for licenses, and those that attempted to continue operating were seized.22 Two leading newspapers had already been suspended in April for a six-month period—an extralegal decision that also seemed aimed at curtailing independent coverage of the August election.

With the dramatic increase in broadcast media diversity and the growth of private outlets in recent years, there has been a particular focus on obstructing live television news coverage and live radio and television call-in shows in which hosts, guest commentators, and ordinary citizens are able to express their views freely. Bans on or interference with such programming occurred amid political tension and rioting in Uganda in September 2009, and during ethnic violence in Kyrgyzstan in June 2010.23 A radio station in Zambia, which had already been banned from hosting live call-in programs since 2007, was threatened with revocation of its license in November 2010 due to allegations that it intended to host an opposition leader and discuss a controversial topic. In January 2011, the station was raided and closed down after airing an advertisement for a meeting on the same topic.24 In the majority of such incidents, the authorities cite technical “irregularities” or violations of license terms, but the true aim appears to be halting criticism of the government or unflattering live news coverage.

Arbitrary directives on content have been also been employed by regulators in certain situations. For example, in June 2010, the High Authority for Broadcasting and Communication (HAAC) in Benin issued a blanket ban on all media coverage that could be described as “premature” election campaigning until 15 days prior to the elections, which were not scheduled to take place until 2011.25 The HAAC threatened to shut down or withdraw the license of any outlet that violated this directive, despite protests from industry groups that the regulator was overstepping its legal authority. A similar directive concerning coverage of campaigning activities was announced by Côte d’Ivoire’s National Audiovisual Communication Council in October 2010.

The state sometimes bypasses the legally mandated regulatory bodies entirely, with executive or law enforcement agencies forcibly closing outlets on national security or some other grounds. Authorities in Thailand used an emergency decree to shutter several dozen community radio stations in July 2010, accusing presenters of fomenting political tension. The move circumvented the National Broadcasting and Telecommunications Commission (NBTC), which supervises broadcast outlets.26 However, NBTC officials were involved in a court-ordered raid on 13 stations that was orchestrated by the Internal Security Operations Command in April 2011. The raid, in which 12 stations were shut down and several media personnel were arrested, was prompted by the airing of a speech by an opposition political leader that was considered to be defamatory toward the king.27

Other such instances have occurred in countries including Uganda and Pakistan. In The Gambia, a radio station that was arbitrarily closed in January 2011 was able to reopen in February after being offered a “second chance” by the president, whose office noted in a letter to the station that it should desist from citing opposition newspapers in its popular news review and current affairs program, and should only review news from government-controlled outlets.28 A local judge in Argentina ordered the closure of a radio station in Santa Fe Province in April in what appeared to be a politicized decision stemming from the station’s criticism of the local mayor; the ruling bypassed the federal regulator and an established process for making complaints.29 Arbitrary decisions by a mayor were also apparently behind the shutdowns of a television and a radio station in western Venezuela in May 2011.


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Self-regulation, as an alternative to statutory regulation, is acknowledged as the best-practice model and is already used in dozens of countries, particularly those with freer media environments. In a self-regulatory system, the media industry essentially polices itself through bodies such as a nongovernmental media council or an ombudsman, which monitor compliance with agreed-upon codes of conduct. Most self-regulatory bodies apply to print media, but in some countries there are separate entities for broadcast media. Councils that cover all forms of media are less common, but given the growth of media houses that encompass print, broadcast, and internet outlets, this all-media format may expand in the future.

Ideally, self-regulatory bodies should enjoy broad acceptance and participation by the media sector, and their leaders should for the most part be members of the profession who were elected by their peers, supplemented by members of the public, retired judges, or other independent actors. The entity would be empowered to hear cases brought against media outlets or journalists by members of the public or government figures, and to adjudicate and direct remedial action, which frequently takes the form of a published retraction or correction.30

Examples of such bodies include the Peruvian Press Council and the Media Council of Tanzania. In some cases, the state tries to co-opt an existing self-regulatory process. A subtle bill proposed in Panama in early 2010, for instance, would establish a national agency to “oversee” self-regulatory agreements by setting norms, a move that regional press freedom watchdogs decried as a distortion of the idea of self-regulation.31 Alternatively, the state may claim that an existing system is ineffective and try to replace or eclipse it with some form of statutory regulation, as with a government-proposed media tribunal currently under consideration in South Africa. Most commonly, the reason given for such a course of action is that the existing mechanism does not have sufficient teeth (in terms of punishments for violators) or is unable to police irresponsible media outlets effectively.

In a number of other countries, self-regulatory mechanisms are undeveloped or extremely weak, and the state is able to use this as an excuse to continue or introduce statutory regulation. In Zambia, for instance, the media have made attempts to develop a self-regulatory mechanism that encompasses both the entire private sector and the state-run outlets, but the effort faces an ongoing threat from the government, which has sought to impose statutory regulation.32 In 2010, a consortium of industry groups agreed to establish a self-regulatory body, the Zambia Media Council (ZAMEC), and drafted a code of ethics that the council would help enforce. However, due to a lack of official support—which would limit the participation of state media—the launching of ZAMEC was repeatedly postponed. In early 2011, ZAMEC announced further measures to strengthen its enforcement mechanisms amid continuing discussions with the government on whether the public media would be involved in the process.33

Threats to self-regulatory mechanisms appear to be on the rise, according to a recent report by the Center for International Media Assistance; media in a number of countries, particularly in Africa, are facing stronger attempts to impose state-controlled regulation.34 However, in some cases this has spurred private media to adopt preemptive measures. In Pakistan, the government’s moves to impose additional regulatory controls have led to concerted action by the media industry to develop its own codes of conduct, for example on the topic of broadcast coverage of terrorist events or violence. Looming threats of state-led regulation also prompted the establishment of independent media councils in Britain in 1991 and Ireland in 2007.35

Regulation of Networked and Foreign Media

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As a result of the internationalization of the media space, national regulatory systems are affecting not just domestic outlets, but also international and regional broadcasters. For example, in the wake of the disputed 2010 presidential election in Côte d’Ivoire, the regulator—on orders from the government, led then by President Laurent Gbagbo—suspended local transmission of all international radio and television news services, citing the potential for unrest. France’s Radio France Internationale was also shut down in the Democratic Republic of the Congo for more than a year in 2009, after the government accused it of demoralizing the army. The pan-Arab satellite television station Al-Jazeera has fallen afoul of a number of governments in the Middle East and North Africa, which have on various occasions withdrawn licenses and accreditation from its correspondents and bureaus.36

However, a more globalized and diverse media environment, in which cable and satellite stations compete with terrestrial broadcasters, has also allowed national outlets to evade restrictive regulations by, for example, establishing their headquarters and transmission facilities outside the home country, as some Pakistani stations have done in Dubai. The proliferation of networked media platforms like the internet and mobile telephones presents an added challenge for regulators. In some countries, regulatory laws and bodies cover the media as well as telecommunications, while in others there are separate regulatory frameworks for each. Moreover, legislation on broadcasting in a number of countries, particularly those that transitioned to more open democratic systems in the 1990s and enacted the relevant laws more than a decade ago, seem increasingly inadequate to handle the phenomenon of convergence, in which media content is disseminated across multiple delivery systems. Best practice concerning internet regulation is still evolving, with many advocates arguing that online outlets, like newspapers, should be largely free of state-imposed restrictions.

Nevertheless, some governments have responded by simply extending the rules for broadcast media—which tend to be more restrictive than those for print and other media—to cover the internet. A December 2010 amendment to Venezuela’s the 2004 Law for Social Responsibility in Radio, Television, and Electronic Media extended its restrictions to online outlets, banning messages that incite or promote hatred, foment citizens’ anxiety, or disrespect authorities, among other loosely written provisions. The amendment also placed internet media under the purview of CONATEL, the government regulator, which now has the power to block online content and issue fines to media outlets or internet-service providers that violate the law. In May 2010, Azerbaijani authorities also expressed their intent to extend licensing controls over the internet, and particularly over internet-based television channels, although such controls have yet to come into force.

Conclusions and Recommendations

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The state-run national media monopolies that prevailed in many parts of the world during the 20th century have become increasingly rare, as democratization, privatization processes, and new technologies multiply the conduits for news and information. However, governments have found ways to adapt their legal and regulatory systems to the new environment, allowing them to maintain a measure of control over the dissemination of news on sensitive topics.

In countries that have fallen under authoritarian rule, such as Venezuela or Zimbabwe, legal restrictions are widespread, regulatory bodies are under government control, and private outlets face the threat of closure for airing opposition views. In a range of partly free media environments, authorities use regulation more selectively, punishing certain outlets or restricting content during crucial periods. Often there is a gap between the laws on the books and their application in practice. Unfortunately, even the governments in very open countries have displayed an impulse to improperly control information through regulation. Hungary recently enacted its most severe licensing and content controls since the end of communist rule, and in South Africa, which has been held up as an example of best practice in terms of its legal framework and self-regulatory system, a government-proposed media tribunal threatens to erode the country’s hard-won press freedom.

In response, advocates need to maintain monitoring efforts, report violations of international standards, and continue to push for both the reform of restrictive laws and full adherence to well-crafted ones. Particular attention should be paid to the licensing regime and the legal underpinnings of a given regulatory body, to ensure that the regulator has the capacity to operate independently and make transparent decisions based on clearly defined and reasonable criteria. Drastic steps such as the suspension of a license or the closure of an outlet should be considered within this framework, and should not come as the result of arbitrary actions by security forces or the executive branch.

Supporters of media freedom must also work to develop or strengthen truly independent self-regulatory mechanisms that have the backing of both private and public outlets. These systems should address concerns about ethical lapses and professional standards so as to prevent the enactment of excessively harsh statutory regulation on the same grounds.

Finally, advocates should encourage a comprehensive approach to the changing and converging media environment that nevertheless recognizes the necessity of applying different levels of regulation to different types of media.

For the full report, including bibliography, please go to:


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1 Steve Buckley et al., Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability: A Public Interest Approach to Policy, Law, and Regulation (Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2008), p.50.

2 Buckley et al., Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability, p. 141–44.

3 Steven Strasser, Registering Reporters: How Licensing of Journalists Threatens Independent News Media (Washington, DC: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 23 November 2010).

4 Buckley et al., Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability, p. 156.

5 “Practice Note: Rural Community Radios in Mali,” ICT Regulation Toolkit,

6 Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), “Jordan,” in Attacks on the Press 2004 (New York: CPJ, 14 March 2005),

7 Pacific Freedom Forum, “New Controls over Media Industry and Journalists Deepen Loss of Free Speech, Says PFF,” International Freedom of Expression Exchange (IFEX), 30 June 2010,

8 Reporters Without Borders, “RCTVI Agrees to Carry President’s Speeches, Allowed Back on Air,” IFEX, 26 February 2010,

9 CPJ, “CPJ Condemns Two Media Laws,” IFEX, 22 December 2010,

10 Buckley et al., Broadcasting, Voice, and Accountability, p. 156.

11 Media Institute, “Government Proposes Draconian Law for Regulating Media Content,” IFEX, 2 December 2008,

12 Article 19, “New Media Laws Must Meet International Standard,” IFEX, 18 February 2011,

13 International Federation of Journalists, “Journalists Question Hungary’s Leadership of Europe as Media Law Provokes Outrage,” IFEX, December 23, 2010,

14 International Press Institute (IPI), “IPI Renews Objections to Media Law Following Amendments,” IFEX, 11 March 2011,

15 IPI, “IPI Urges Government to Stop Stalling on Self-Regulation,” IFEX, 25 May 2011,

16 CPJ, “Ethiopia,” in Attacks on the Press 2003 (New York: CPJ, 11 March 2004), the-press-2003-ethiopia.php.

17 CPJ, “Tunisia,” in Attacks on the Press 2008 (New York: CPJ, 10 February 2009), the-press-in-2008-tunisia.php.

18 Human Rights Watch, “Authorities Deny License for Critical Voice Despite Court Judgment,” IFEX, 21 December 2010,

19 IPI, “Two TV Stations Have Licenses Revoked, Could Face Criminal Charges,” IFEX, 31 August 2010,; IPI, “TV Station Decides to Defy Court Ruling and Continues to Broadcast,” IFEX, 27 September 2010,

20 Arabic Network for Human Rights Information (ANHRI), “Television Station Ordered to Stop Broadcasting; Complaint Filed against Another Station,” IFEX, 6 December 2010,

21 ANHRI, “Four TV Stations Closed in Rising Crackdown on Free Expression,” IFEX, 15 October 2010,

22 Reporters Without Borders, “Around 30 News Media Outlets Closed ahead of Presidential Election,” IFEX, 4 August 2010,

23 CPJ, “TV Stations Shut Down in Kyrgyzstan; Prominent Journalist Held in Uzbekistan,” IFEX, 15 June 2010,

24 MISA, “Authorities Threaten to Revoke Radio Station’s License,” IFEX, 29 November 2010,; IPI, “Radio Station Effectively Closed; ‘Post’ Newspaper Journalist Detained,” IFEX, 19 January 2011,

25 Media Foundation for West Africa (MFWA), “Media Regulator Restricts Media Coverage of Elections,” IFEX, 23 June 2010,

26 Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA), “Government Shuts Down 26 Community Radio Stations,” IFEX, 19 July 2010,

27 SEAPA, “Thirteen Community Radio Stations Ordered Closed, Three Media Workers Arrested, for Airing Lese Majeste Speech,” IFEX, 27 April 2011,

28 MFWA, “Authorities Shut Down Radio Station,” IFEX, 18 January 2011,; MFWA, “Taranga FM Resumes Broadcasting after 32 Days Off Air,” IFEX, 23 February 2011,

29 Argentine Journalism Forum (FOPEA), “Radio Station Closed in Roldán,” IFEX, 14 April 2011,

30 For further detail on self-regulatory structures, see Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media, The Media Self-Regulation Guidebook (Vienna: Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe, 2008),

31 Inter American Press Association (IAPA), “IAPA Concerned at Bill That Would ‘Legalize’ Media Self- Regulation,” IFEX, 5 February 2010,

32 Naomi Hunt, Report on Press Freedom and Media Regulation in Zambia: October 2010 (Vienna: IPI, 2010),

33 IPI, “IPI Welcomes Progress Towards Self-Regulation,” IFEX, 11 April 2011.

34 Bill Ristow, Sword and Shield: Self-Regulation and International Media (Washington, DC: Center for International Media Assistance, National Endowment for Democracy, 5 May 2009), p.18,

35 Ristow, Sword and Shield, p.20.

36 CPJ, “Authorities Suspend Al-Jazeera Operations Indefinitely,” IFEX, 1 November 2010,