The U.N. and media rights groups marking World Press Freedom Day say the Arab Spring has eased the grip of some governments on journalism, but many nations still repress the media.
In a joint statement, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and UNESCO leader Irina Bokova said changes in the Arab world have shown the “power for aspirations for rights when combined with new and old media.”
The Freedom House rights group says the Middle East and North Africa experienced “dramatic if precarious gains” in press freedom last year. The group cites Egypt, Libya and Tunisia for significant gains, but it says Bahrain and Syria launched “harsh media crackdowns” as part of government efforts to repress uprisings.
The group says China, Russia and Iran kept tight grips on the media by detaining government critics and shutting down media outlets.
Reporters Without Borders marked World Press Freedom Day by condemning attacks on news providers. It says 21 journalists have been killed this year. The group cited Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and Islamist militias in Somalia as the worst offenders of media freedom.
UNESCO is holding an international conference on press freedom in Tunisia, the birthplace of the Arab Spring.
Press freedom director Guy Berger told VOA from Tunis that participants are addressing issues including newly relaxed media guidelines in countries that include Egypt, Libya and Tunisia.
“This is quite a momentous time because there is almost a watershed of issues not only in Tunisia but in the Arab Spring world.”
Berger said he hopes the conference's strong support from more than 770 participants from 88 countries will help deter
governments seeking to reverse press freedom.
“Hopefully this will make a difference in terms of consolidating and preserving the space that was created by the Arab Spring.”
Iran and Syria also fared poorly in a Committee to Protect Journalists report on the “10 Most Censored Countries.” But the group said Eritrea topped its “most censored” list because the government only allows tightly supervised state news media.
World Press Freedom Day was enacted by the U.N. General Assembly in 1993 to assess the worldwide state of media freedom and pay tribute to journalists who have died in the line of duty.