WASHINGTON - World press freedom has hit its lowest level in a decade after a regression in Egypt, Turkey and Ukraine, and US efforts to curb national security reporting, a watchdog said Thursday.
A report by Freedom House, which has been conducting annual surveys since 1980, found that the share of the world's population with media rated "free" was 14 percent in 2013, or only one in seven people.
Meanwhile, 44 percent of the world population lived in areas where the media was "not free" and 42 percent in places where press was "partly free," the Freedom of the Press 2014 report said.
"The overall trends are definitely negative," said Karin Karlekar, project director of the report.
Karlekar said press freedom is under attack in many regions of the world.
"We saw a real focus on 'attacking the messenger,'" she told a news conference, including "deliberate targeting of foreign journalists" in many countries.
"In every region of the world last year, we found both governments and private actors attacking reporters, blocking their physical access to newsworthy events, censoring content, and ordering politically motivated firings of journalists," she said.
Of the 197 countries and territories evaluated in 2013, Freedom House found 63 rated "free," 68 "partly free" and 66 "not free."
The top-ranked were the Netherlands, Norway and Sweden, and the lowest North Korea, which ranked just behind Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan.
The report expressed concern on use of new technologies by authoritarian governments to filter online content and to monitor the activities of reporters.
"Governments have become more sophisticated in their efforts to crack down, even in the online space," said Karlekar.
Ukraine, Turkey downgraded
The report ranked countries on a scale of zero to 100, with the lowest numbers representing the best score, and also compiled an aggregate global number to measure press freedom.
The average global score was at its worst since 2004, and the percentage of people living with a free news media fell to its lowest since 1996, the report said.
The population figures are due in part to the impact of China, rated "not free," and India, "partly free." Those two countries account for more than a third of the world's population.
The US remained in the ranks of countries with a "free" press, but fell in global rankings to 30th best, tied with Australia.
The report cited a "limited willingness of high-level (US) government officials to provide access and information to members of the press."
The report also cited an increase in the United States in the number of information requests denied, and the targeting of journalists in criminal investigations.
Karlekar said the worst countries -- which included Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Iran, Belarus and Eritrea -- were "black holes for freedom of information" with little access and difficult conditions for journalists.
Countries downgraded to "not free" were Libya, South Sudan, Turkey, Ukraine, and Zambia.
Freedom House said China and Russia continued to maintain a tight grip on locally based print and broadcast media, while also attempting to control views in blogs or by foreign news sources. Both countries introduced additional legal measures to penalize online speech in 2013.
The group said journalists were attacked in 2013 in Ukraine, Turkey and Egypt, and to a lesser extent in Brazil, Venezuela, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Jordan, and Uganda.
On the positive side, 11 countries improved their rankings including eight in sub-Saharan Africa. Ivory Coast was upgraded from "not free" to "partly free."