Press sales and freedom decline

World newspaper circulation fell in 2002 for the first time in five years and press freedom has worsened internationally over the past six months.

The World Association of Newspapers has published its annual World Press Trends Survey, as well as its biannual review of press freedom worldwide.

The survey reveals a worldwide decline in newspaper circulation of 0.35 per cent in 2002. Daily newspaper advertising income fell for the second year running – by 0.52 per cent compared with a 5 per cent drop in 2001.

Director general of WAN, Timothy Spalding, said: “Despite ferocious competition in the information and advertising market places, newspapers continue to hold their own in a very difficult market.

“Newspapers continue to perform well and continue to be major players on the media landscape.”

Only two EU countries reported daily newspaper circulation increases in 2002 – Italy (2.8 per cent) and Ireland (0.5 per cent). Greece and France had the two highest falls in daily newspaper circulation in 2002, 6.4 per cent and 3.9 per cent respectively.

In the UK, daily circulation fell by 0.1 per cent in 2002. According to the report the UK experienced a 2.4 per cent decline in advertising revenue in 2002, compared with a 12.5 per cent drop in Germany, 3.7 per cent in the US and 11 per cent in Japan.

The press freedom review reveals that 31 journalists have been killed in the line of work over the past six months: 13 in Iraq alone and five in Columbia.

The report states: “Vigorous government clampdowns, ongoing and renewed conflict and premeditated attacks on journalists and their publications signal a widespread deterioration of conditions for media and a bleak outlook for press freedom in 2003.”

Singled out for particular criticism in the report is Cuba, where 28 journalists were jailed in April, receiving sentences of 14 to 27 years each for allegedly “working with a foreign power to undermine the Government”.

China, however, tops the world league for imprisoning journalists with 40 known to be behind bars.

WAN reports that the Middle East and North Africa rank dismally in the field of press freedom and criticises the use of criminal defamation laws to hinder free speech in Morocco, Jordan, Tunisia and Egypt.

The organisation also reports widespread attacks on press freedom elsewhere in Africa. In addition to President Robert Mugabe’s excesses in Zimbabwe, WAN criticises strict government censorship in Sudan, Chad, Cameroon, Ghana and Togo.

And it reports that, in April, Swaziland banned all national television and radio stations from covering anything with a negative bearing on the Government.

Paris-based WAN represents 18,000 newspapers and both reports were released to coincide with the World Association of Newspapers Congress, held this week in Dublin.

By Dominic Ponsford

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