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World Press Freedom Day, marked each year on May Third, was established by the United Nations to raise awareness of the role that a free press plays in strengthening democracies and fostering development. Major advances in communications technologies such as satellite television and the Internet have furthered the cause of a free flow of news and information that are important to a free society. But media freedom remains seriously constrained by regimes in many parts of the world that seek to quash the criticism that their harsh actions and policies may produce.

Indeed, press groups across the political spectrum report signs of a steady decline in press freedoms in recent years. While some improvements have been seen in the Middle East and North Africa, they are outnumbered by setbacks elsewhere. And when governments target the press to stifle critical reporting, history has shown that restrictions on other freedoms may soon follow.

Many of these declines are seen in areas of conflict and broader political crises such as Central Asia and Sub-Saharan Africa. And there has been no improvement in countries such as Cuba and North Korea. Censorship looms large and journalists are threatened with harassment, arrest and physical violence.

World Press Freedom Day 2008, then, doesn’t so much offer a cause to celebrate than it does an opportunity to reflect on the need to be constantly vigilant about core human rights. Press freedoms are under attack even in some advanced democracies, showing how easily many fundamental rights, not just those of the press, can be taken away.

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