- The Washington Times - Tuesday, May 2, 2006

NEW YORK — North Korea has the most heavily censored press in the world, according to a new ranking by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), although Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea and Belarus aren’t far behind.

The list of worst offenders ranges around the world, also including Libya and Eritrea in Africa; Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan in Central Asia, and Syria.

“North Korea is the world’s deepest information void,” said CPJ Executive Director Ann Cooper, whose group prepared the list to coincide with World Press Freedom Day today. Not only do all journalists work for the Korean Central News Agency, she said, but all radios in the country are made so they can only pick up government-run stations.

The CPJ panel that compiled the list apparently had no shortage of candidates. Governments routinely associated with strict press controls, such as China, Zimbabwe, Iran and Ethiopia, didn’t even make the list. Nor did countries where journalists are intimidated, injured or killed for their work, such as Iraq, Congo, Lebanon, Egypt and Pakistan.

Miss Cooper said that all the countries on the list are run by dictators, have almost no independent media, and severely restrict Internet usage where it is available at all. Foreign journalists are rarely permitted to report and are closely watched, while foreign television and radio broadcasts are banned.

“People in these countries are virtually isolated from the rest of the world by authoritarian rulers who muzzle the media and keep a chokehold on information through restrictive laws, fear and intimidation,” Miss Cooper said yesterday.

She said news outlets in the countries offer little opportunity for opposing views to be heard, and frequently burnish the cult of personality surrounding such leaders as North Korea’s “Dear Leader” Kim Jong-il and Turkmenistan’s “President for life” Saparmurat Atayevich Niyazov.

The methods in the 10 countries vary, but the result is the same — a poorly informed populace that has almost no access to uncensored information, Miss Cooper said.

Eritrea abruptly banned all private press three years ago, while the only private broadcasting outlet in Equatorial Guinea is controlled by the president’s son. Belarus has forbidden printers from publishing private newspapers and post offices from distributing them.

In Cuba, demonstrators are sent to the homes of journalists who stray from the official line. In Burma, the junta took over the country’s lead Internet and satellite provider.

“By any international standard, the practices of these governments are unacceptable,” said Miss Cooper, who called on more progressive countries in each region to apply pressure to the governments in question.

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