Historical Guide to World Media Freedom: A Country-by-Country Analysis


Jenifer Whitten-Woodring & Douglas A. Van Belle

  • Citations
  • Add to My List
  • Text Size

  • Chapters
  • Front Matter
  • Back Matter
  • Subject Index
  • Copyright

    View Copyright Page


    This book was born out of a four-inch red binder, overstuffed to the point of bursting with coding notes from our work on the update of the Global Press Freedom Data (which is available at http://faculty.uml.edu/Jenifer_whittenwoodring). We were discussing coding issues over lunch, and as we flipped through that binder, using the notes on how the media environment had shifted and changed over time, in country after country, we realized that it was more than just notes. It was a collection of stories that needed to be told. Fortunately, we had no idea how complicated it would be or how long it would take to integrate the contents of the binder with the box of index cards from the original coding and turn that mess into a book. If we had known how much work it would be, we probably would not have tackled the project. This book is a qualitative companion to the Global Media Freedom Dataset, but it is much more than simply a collection of histories on the evolution of media freedom for 196 countries. Instead, it is an analytical history of media freedom that examines the concept itself, the definitions (or lack thereof) that people have used, the way the idea has been championed and challenged over time, and from that foundation, there is then the collection of information on how media freedom as a political condition has developed, evolved, and disintegrated around the world.

    It may surprise many to learn that media freedom is a difficult concept to pin down and define. The biggest problem in both defining and evaluating media freedom stems from its entanglement with ideology. Many studies of news media have focused on an idealized conceptualization of journalism as a fourth estate that holds government accountable. Thus, media freedom has historically been defined by the factors that limit it or prevent it from fulfilling this function. Often, this results in an unrealistic emphasis on activist journalism. Not only does this lead to an exaggeration of minor variations among Western countries with well-established free media environments, but it also makes it a challenge to apply a consistent coding regime over time. The information on media function and practice that is emphasized in the past few decades, and in the descriptions of Western countries, is scarce in discussions of the 1950s and 1960s, and still sometimes difficult to find for many countries in Asia, Africa, South America, and Oceania. Often, the information that was available reads like a list of infractions of an undefined ideal media freedom rather than a real discussion of the political, economic, and social environment. Often, there was little information about the extent to which journalists could and did criticize government, which was our key criterion. As a result, we had to gather a great deal of general historical information for each country to evaluate, describe, and explain the shifts in the media environment over time.

    This project was completed with substantial assistance and patience from our friends, family, and colleagues. We would like to thank Doug Goldenberg-Hart, formerly of CQ Press, for believing in this project when we showed him that red binder and for not giving up on us when it took years longer than expected to complete. The editorial team at SAGE/CQ Press led by Diana Axelsen and Jim Brace-Thompson deserve a special thank you for their extraordinary patience and expertise. We appreciate the support of the University of Massachusetts Lowell, especially the Department of Political Science, Dr. Fred Lewis, Dean Luis M. Falcón, and Provost Ahmed Abdelal. And we have to thank Pat James at the University of Southern California for recognizing our mutual interest in media freedom and introducing us.

    This book would not have been possible if we had not been able to access the early reports gathered by the International Press Institute (IPI); thus, we are grateful to IPI Executive Director Alison McKenzie for allowing us access to the IPI archives in Vienna, Austria; to Christiane Klint, Membership & Global Relations, for her assistance in sorting through all those years of reports; and to the IPI staff whose advocacy and assistance has helped reporters worldwide and whose monitoring of media freedom provides a valuable resource for scholars. We also appreciate Paul Losch for responding to our call for help in gathering information about the Americas and providing access to the early reports of the Inter American Press Association in the Latin American Collection at the University of Florida's Smathers Library. Thanks to historians Abby Chandler, Lisa Edwards, and Tom Maulucci for helping these political scientists locate historical resources, and the team of research assistants at the University of Southern California and the University of Massachusetts Lowell who helped with the data gathering—Kaitlin Everly, Ellen Fehr, Pamela Mizuno, Natalia Nyczak, Amanda Peterson, Brett Power, and Jai-Ayla Sutherland. And thanks especially to Salvatore Schiano who came on board during the final push to finish this book and provided invaluable research assistance when we needed it most!

    Finally, we would not have been able to complete this project without the support and patience of our families, especially our spouses, Terry and Wendy; our children, Patrick, Alex, Tabitha, Jensen, and Samantha; and David, Jo, and Guy Whitten. We spent many family holidays and weekends writing about media freedom.

    Douglas A.Van Belle

    About the Authors

    Jenifer Whitten-Woodring is an assistant professor in the Department of Political Science at the University of Massachusetts Lowell. Her research focuses on the causes and effects of media freedom and the role of media in repression and dissent. Her articles have been published in The Journal of Conflict Resolution, International Studies Quarterly, and Political Communication. Prior to becoming a political scientist, Whitten-Woodring worked as a journalist in print and broadcast media and received five first place awards from the New York State Associated Press Broadcasters Association. She became particularly interested in media freedom and the relationship between media and politics when she was a journalism instructor and student newspaper adviser, first at Cedar Crest College and then at California State University at San Marcos. To pursue these research interests, she went back to school and completed her PhD in Politics and International Relations at the University of Southern California in 2010. She also has a master's degree in Radio, Television, and Film from Syracuse University's Newhouse School.

    Douglas A. Van Belle is a Senior Lecturer in Media Studies at Victoria University of Wellington. He was the first person to have served as the president of both the Foreign Policy Analysis and the International Communication research sections in the International Studies Association. He has also served as the Editor-in-Chief of International Studies Perspectives and Foreign Policy Analysis and has conducted extensive research on media systems and information flows in international politics. He created the press freedom data set that precedes this study, to examine the effect of media freedom on international conflict, as exemplified by “Press Freedom and the Democratic Peace” (Journal of Peace Research). That initial analysis was expanded to complete Press Freedom and Global Politics (Praeger), which provides the foundation for the extension conducted here. Studies of popular media and political theory led to the undergraduate textbook, A Novel Approach to Politics, which is now in its 4th edition. Also, before returning to the analysis of media freedom with this project, he conducted a series of studies examining the relationship between information flows, disasters, and foreign aid, including Media, Bureaucracies and Foreign Aid (Palgrave: With Potter and Rioux).

  • Appendix A: Media Freedom Region by Region


    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    Africa 1948–1959

    Africa 1960–1969

    Africa 1970–1979

    Africa 1980–1989

    Africa 1990–2000

    Africa 2001–2012


    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    Americas 1948–1959

    Americas 1960–1969

    Americas 1970–1979

    Americas 1980–1989

    Americas 1990–2000

    Americas 2001–2012

    East Asia and the Pacific

    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    East Asia and the Pacific 1948–1959

    East Asia and the Pacific 1960–1969

    East Asia and the Pacific 1970–1979

    East Asia and the Pacific 1980–1989

    East Asia and the Pacific 1990–2000

    East Asia and the Pacific 2001–2012

    Europe and Eurasia

    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    Europe and Eurasia 1948–1959

    Europe and Eurasia 1960–1969

    Europe and Eurasia 1970–1979

    Europe and Eurasia 1980–1989

    Europe and Eurasia 1990–2000

    Europe and Eurasia 2001–2012

    Europe and Eurasia 2001–2012

    Near East

    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    Near East 1948–1959

    Near East 1960–1969

    Near East 1970–1979

    Near East 1980–1989

    Near East 1990–2000

    Near East 2001–2012

    South and Central Asia

    F=Free; IF=Imperfectly Free; NF=Not Free; NM=No Media

    South and Central Asia 1948–1959

    South and Central Asia 1960–1969

    South and Central Asia 1970–1979

    South and Central Asia 1980–1989

    South and Central Asia 1990–2000

    South and Central Asia 2001–2012

    Appendix B: The Global Media Freedom Dataset: Data Gathering Methods, Guidelines for Using the Data, and Merging the Data with Freedom House Data

    Where to Find the Data

    The Global Media Freedom Data is available online at http://faculty.uml.edu/Jenifer_whitten-woodring.

    Data Gathering Methods

    As outlined in Chapter 2, the data were gathered using a multistage, multicoder sorting technique. At least two coders independently extracted raw data from historical documents, noted the significant detail in that data, and coded the country for every year of its inclusion in the database. In the majority of cases, the coders agreed on the code for a country-year, and neither noted any significant uncertainty in the code they assigned, which then completed the coding for that case. In the cases where the coders did not agree on the code or one of the coders indicated significant concerns about the code, the case was passed to a third coder who examined the evidence identified by each of the original coders. Most of the cases with discrepant coding were a result of one or sometimes both coders finding historical accounts that the other did not find, and simply combining the raw data resolved the discrepancy. A small number of cases involved conflicting information or other difficulties that required more extensive investigation by the third coder and sometimes a fourth. In those instances, the conclusions were vetted and discussed by a small group that included one or both of the principal investigators. In gathering the detailed historic information for this volume, we occasionally found the need to adjust our codes, but in most cases these changes were minor (usually between free and imperfectly free).

    From 1948 to 2001, the media environments around the world are sorted into three basic categories.1

    • 1—Free—countries where criticism of government and government officials is a common and normal part of the political dialogue in the mediated public sphere.
    • 2—Imperfectly Free—countries where social, legal, or economic costs related to the criticism of government or government officials limits public criticism, but investigative journalism and criticism of major policy failings can and does occur.
    • 3—Not Free—countries where it is not possible to safely criticize government or government officials.

    In the dataset, additional codes are used for identifying states that for one reason or another cannot be effectively coded.

    • 0—No Media—countries where there is no effective national media.
    • 8—Missing Data—countries where political or social disruption makes it impossible to code for the year.
    • 9—Missing Data—countries where media were known to exist, but there is insufficient historical material to effectively code the nature of the media environment.
    • 999—Missing Data—countries that did not exist as independent political entities. Often occupied by foreign forces, annexed, or dissolved.
    Guidelines for Using Data

    Because both free media and imperfectly free media are able to function freely, the difference between these categories is much smaller than the difference between imperfectly free media and not free media. Simply put, not free media cannot function freely. Therefore, in studies where media freedom is an independent variable, where the effects of media freedom are what matters, we recommend using a dichotomous version of the variable where the categories of free media and imperfectly free media are collapsed into functionally free media versus not free media. In studies where media freedom is a dependent variable, where the causes of media freedom are what matters, we recommend using the trichotomous version of the variable (free media, imperfectly free media, and not free media) to explain these important variations. However, because the differences between these categories are not equal, it is important to use a model that accounts for this (ordered logistic regression or multinomial logistic regression are both possibilities).

    Merging the Global Media Freedom Data with the Freedom House Data

    We gathered data for all available countries from 1948 to 2001. We stopped at 2001, because this is the point where Freedom House adopted a far more detailed and transparent process of gathering its data for its Freedom of the Press reports. Freedom House's Freedom of the Press reports assign each country-year a code that theoretically ranges from 0 to 100, with 100 being the most restricted. Freedom House also categorizes each media environment as Free (for those with a score of 0 to 30), Partly Free (for those with a score of 31 to 60) or Not Free (for those with a score of 61 to 100). While these categories for the most part correspond with our Free, Imperfectly Free, and Not Free categories, the borders between the Freedom House categories are less distinct than ours. In the Freedom House coding, the difference between countries with a score of 60 and 61 is slight, but with our dataset, the difference between countries that are imperfectly free and not free is the difference between being able to criticize the government and not being able to criticize the government. Consequently, in some cases the categories do not correspond, and this is usually the case where the Freedom House categories are closest to the scoring borders. In the country profiles in Chapter 4 and our updated dataset, we have used the Freedom House Freedom of the Press data as a guide, but have also relied on historic accounts and our own coding criteria. Thus, our dataset extends through 2012. For future updates, we advise using the Freedom House Freedom of the Press data and categorization as a guide but suggest careful consideration of countries that are on the borders. According to our coding guidelines, country-years in which the media are not free to criticize the government should be coded as not free, and country-years where the media are somewhat restricted but are for the most part able to criticize government should be coded as imperfectly free, and country-years where the media are clearly able to criticize government should be coded as free.


    1. In the original Van Belle definition and coding there was a fourth not free category for media that were completely controlled by government versus those that were indirectly controlled by government of a third party, but with the end of the cold war and the massive growth in information technology, distinguishing between state-operated news media and media that are controlled by other means has become something of a pointless exercise. Aside from North Korea, it is difficult to argue that any states have media run exclusively by the state as so many were during the cold war.

    • Loading...
Back to Top

Copy and paste the following HTML into your website