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Irish AEJ member Joe Carroll recently attended a meeting of the UK Section of the Association of European Journalists in London at which Christopher Walker of Freedom House presented their latest global survey on Freedom of the Press. Here is Joe’s report:

‘I was made very welcome by our British colleagues including Celia Hampton and William Horsley. There was a large turnout for the luncheon meeting at the usual venue of the London Office of the European Parliament.

The Freedom House report dealt with the situation in 195 countries in 2007 and showed a “clear decline” over the year since the previous report. At the meeting in London, Mr Walker concentrated on the situation in the 55 OSCE countries. He noted that press freedom is in a perilous state in Russia and many of its former Soviet Union republics. There has also been some decline in press freedom in Central and Eastern European countries. In the 25 countries under the heading of Western Europe, one, Turkey, is classified as “partly free”.

There was a lively discussion chaired by William Horsley. A number of participants wondered if cultural differences are taken sufficiently into account by Freedom House when awarding ratings. One participant believed there was a bias in the survey against left wing regimes in Latin America where most countries are described as “partly free”. Mr Walker was asked why the UK was ranked at 19 along with the Czech Republic and Lithuania. He said that this rating was due mainly to the British libel laws.

Ireland is ranked at 12. The report notes that the new defamation law now going through the legislature is an improvement on the existing one. But there are concerns about the proposed privacy law.

The discussion continued in a more informal fashion at the nearby Saint Ermin’s Hotel.

I was also invited to attend a meeting the next day, 2nd May, at the Frontline Club to celebrate World Press Freedom Day by a debate on the motion that “New Media is Killing Journalism.” This debate was also chaired by a very busy William Horsley. I have done a report on both of these events which was published in The Irish Times on 8th May in their World News section.

For those who would like to access the full Freedom House survey, it is available

Joe Carroll
May 2008