Report: Sharp Decline in Mideast Free Press

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In its annual assessment of freedom of the press, Freedom House, a Washington-based independent watchdog organization promoting freedom worldwide, reported a sharp decline of press freedoms in Arab countries in the Middle East and North Africa.

Egypt was downgraded to "not free." Libya, Syria, Tunisia and Saudi Arabia ranked among the worst for allowing independent media and freedom of the press.

"In 2010, we saw how readily governments in the Middle East turned to repression of the media," said Karin Deutsch Karlekar, managing editor of the study, The Associated Press reported.

"Recent moves by the army in Egypt to restrict news coverage are worrying," Karlekar said.

According to the report, countries restricting a free press outnumber countries struggling to sanction independent media by a two-to-one margin. On a positive note, the report noted a leveling off last year in the worldwide trend to suppress freedom of the press, though positive trends for 2011 remain unclear.

Belarus, Burma, Cuba, Equatorial Guinea, Entrea, Iran, Libya, North Korea, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan share the dubious distinction of being of the 10 worst-rated countries for freedom of the press.

"In these states, independent media are either nonexistent or barely able to operate," the report stated.

"The press acts as a mouthpiece for the region, citizens access to unbiased information is severely limited, and dissent is crushed through imprisonment, torture and other forms of repression," the report stated.

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AP contributed to this report.

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