A new report on the freedom of press has been released today by freedomhouse.org. Freedom House is an independent, non-profit organization created in 1941 to monitor and defend the freedom of press in the World. The study is being presented today at the Washington News Museum, and the event can be followed via a live webcast through the organization's web site.

According to the report, freedom of press is declining everywhere, and it has been doing so for seven years in a row. The phenomenon is not just due to a few non-liberal countries:
The rollback was not confined to traditionally authoritarian states; with Israel, Italy and Hong Kong slipping from the study's Free category to Partly Free status [...]
Duh, they noticed. With Silvio Berlusconi back in power since last May, Italy for sure cannot be considered a country with free press - it was not so even before, when Berlusconi's party-company was at the opposition but still controlled the majority of media through direct economic influence or subtler political leverage. And now things have worsened significantly: TV anchors are constantly on the watch by the lacqueys of Berlusconi, and the pressure is very strong.

To explain to you how this pressure is not just a moral suasion but a real direct threat to journalists, it is sufficient for me to recall the "bulgarian edict", a declaration given in 2002 in the bulgarian capital Sofia by Silvio Berlusconi (he was Italy's Premier back then too), when he dictated that Biagi, Santoro and Luttazzi, two journalists and  a comedian employed in RAI, Italy's public TV network, had to be given the sack because of "the criminous use" of public TV they were making, being critical to his government:
The use that Biagi, Santoro,…what’s the other one’s name… Luttazzi, made of public television, paid with everybody’s money, is a criminous use. And I believe it is a precise duty of the new management of preventing this from happening in the future.
Biagi, Santoro and Luttazzi were fired without explanations in the blink of an eye, and it took years for RAI to be forced to hire them again through legal action. While Biagi is dead, Santoro is now back in office with a new program, Annozero, but he is still receiving direct threats from Berlusconi's accolites, and has recently been subjected to an internal disciplinary action by RAI for a less than praising piece on the behavior of the government in the aftermath of the earthquake in L'Aquila. The action, needless to say, was requested by members of the government.

According to Karin Karlekar, the researcher who directed the studies of Freedom House, Italy's problem is not just the media control of Berlusconi, who is Italy's Premier, unchallenged president of the governing coalition, and little short of a dictator. (On the news today, Berlusconi declares he is "more popular than Obama, having the support of 74% of italians". He is of course lying, but his power is indeed abnormal.) The problem is also coming from the high rate of sues that journalist face for defamation, and the escalation of physical intimidation by criminal organizations.

But Italy is not alone, being ranked in the middle 31% of the distribution. Here is the breakdown, again quoting from the press release:
Out of the 195 countries and territories covered in the study, 70 (36 percent) are rated Free, 61 (31 percent) are rated Partly Free and 64 (33 percent) are rated Not Free. This represents a modest decline from the 2008 survey in which 72 countries and territories were Free, 59 Partly Free and 64 Not Free. The new survey found that only 17 percent of the world's population lives in countries that enjoy a Free press.
Seventeen percent. If the study is meaningful in its findings, we have a long way to go. Freedom of press is a crucial ingredient of a civilized World. Of course, if even Italy or Israel cannot give a good example, the future looks bleak.