Latvian press free, but not as free as Baltic neighbors

The latest report from US-based rights advocate Freedom House ranks Latvia as a "free" country as far as the press is concerned, but its rating lags behind those of its northern and southern neighbors, Estonia and Lithuania.

On a scale of 1 to 7 (with 1 being most free and 7 least free), Latvia is graded '2' (the same as last year), while Estonia and Lithuania both get the best '1' grade in the Freedom Of The Press 2015 Report. 

However, thankfully Latvia is still streets ahead of its dictatorial neighbors, Russia and Belarus, ranked '6' and '6.5' respectively.

Freedom House's report makes fairly grim reading, with more countries backsliding than progressing on press freedom and a resurgence of authoritarian rule in many countries.

Conditions for the media deteriorated sharply in 2014 to reach their lowest point in more than 10 years, as journalists around the world encountered more restrictions from governments, militants, criminals, and media owners, according to Freedom House.

“Journalists faced intensified pressure from all sides in 2014,” said Jennifer Dunham, project manager of the report. “Governments used security or antiterrorism laws as a pretext to silence critical voices, militant groups and criminal gangs used increasingly brazen tactics to intimidate journalists, and media owners attempted to manipulate news content to serve their political or business interests.”

The report found that the main factors driving the decline were the passage and use of restrictive laws against the media—often on national security grounds—and limits on the ability of local and foreign journalists to report freely within a given country, or even to reach it. In a time of seemingly unlimited access to information and new methods of content delivery, more and more areas of the world are becoming virtually inaccessible to journalists.

“One of the most troubling developments of the past year was the struggle by democratic states to cope with an onslaught of propaganda from authoritarian regimes and militant groups,” Dunham said.

A prime example would be the barrage of propaganda directed against Latvia by Russian state-controlled media.

“There is a danger that instead of encouraging honest, objective journalism and freedom of information as the proper antidote, democracies will resort to censorship or propaganda of their own,” Dunham said.

Norway and Sweden were rated the world’s top-performing countries for press freedom.

In contrast "Russia’s government tightened its grip on the media, suppressing independent reporting and deploying state-controlled outlets to attack domestic dissent and perceived foreign adversaries," the report said.

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