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June 23, 2017

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Global censorship: the usual suspects and a few surprises

UNITED NATIONS -- When it comes to media censorship we think of the usual pantheon of dictators and autocrats who unashamedly shut down news outlets, stifle the free flow of information, and throw journalists in jail.

And it's in countries like North Korea, Cuba and Islamic Republic of Iran where print and broadcast media as well as the Internet are blatantly suppressed and controlled the old fashioned way.

The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a New York-based media monitor has released its latest list of global transgressors; varied and sundry regimes who harass and suffocate the press in places both familiar but equally obscure.

In its Ten Most Censored Countries, the CPJ cites Eritrea, North Korea, Syria, and Iran as the worst of the worst.

Eritrea, a tiny African land of just over five million wedged between Ethiopia, Sudan and the Red Sea is the number one culprit.

Though few people can find the place, lest have heard of it, Eritrea had fought a long and bloody war against Ethiopia before breaking free.

It's capital Asmara used to be a pleasant place with Italianate architecture and optimism. Today Eritrea is a forgotten land; there is no freedom of expression. Only state-sanctioned media is permitted and foreign journalists are banned.

In such places newspapers often resemble poorly printed pennysaver-type publications with ubiquitous pictures of the local dictator greeting farmers, schoolchildren or soldiers.

The second culprit is communist North Korea, the quaintly titled Democratic People's Republic of Korea.

There's more than a dozen newspapers and twenty magazines, but all information comes from the regime-run Korean Central News Agency.

Needless to say, North Korea follows the propaganda script of the Kim Dynasty. The media promotes the cult of the deceased Leaders Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong Il, and the new leader Kim Jong Un and follows the party line in lockstep lest they disappear into the country's vast prison system.

The North Korean case is pure Orwellian where everything is seen through the proletarian prism of a bizarre communist regime. Few foreign reporters gain access to this hermetically sealed socialist state except on special occasions.

Syria comes in as number three.

Given the country's civil unrest, the ruling Assad Family dictatorship has cracked down the old fashioned way; killing and jailing journalists, intimidating others, and making others simply disappear. The Damascus rulers control a fairly wide and sophisticated media ranging from print to broadcast TV. Now that the foreign press are operating in parts of the country, the official story is challenged, and the violence and carnage against civilians is witnessed by the world.

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