Freedom House says restrictive new laws and violence against journalists resulted in a global decline of press freedom during 2014, bringing the world's press freedom to its lowest point in more than 10 years.
In a report released on April 29, the U.S.-based watchdog said press freedom declined significantly in 18 countries and territories during 2014 -- with some of the worst declines in Azerbaijan, Serbia, and Iraq.
Freedom House said Belarus, Russian-annexed Crimea, Iran, Turkmenistan, and Uzbekistan were among the world's 10 worst-rated countries and territories for press freedom.
It said the worst in the Balkans was Macedonia, where press freedom has continued to decline during the past five years.
The report says Azerbaijan's government was one of the worst offenders for using detentions and closures of media offices under security or emergency laws, with nine journalists in prison by December 1.
It noted the jailing later in December 2014 of investigative journalist and RFE/RL contributor Khadija Ismayilova, as well of the closure of RFE/RL's offices in Azerbaijan and the interrogation of RFE/RL employees there.
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Freedom House said Russia's media sector is increasingly owned by the state, by "private-sector cronies of the political leadership," or by business interests that suppress content critical of the government.
Russia also was criticized for "more active and aggressive use of propaganda -- often false or openly threatening -- to warp the media environment and crowd out authentic journalism."
The report said Russia's "state-controlled national television stations broadcast nonstop campaigns of demonization directed at the internal opposition, neighboring countries whose polices have displeased Moscow, and the broader democratic world."
It said Russian media played a major role in preparing the Russian public for war with Ukraine.
It also noted that a Russian law which took effect in August placed new controls on blogs and social media, requiring all websites with more than 3,000 visitors a day to register with state regulators as a "media outlet."
Freedom House said that Ukraine," facing a military invasion" by Russia, suspended the retransmission of at least 15 Russian television channels by cable operators.
It also noted that Lithuania, Latvia, and Moldova imposed suspensions or fines on Russian television stations for "incitement to war, disseminating historical inaccuracy, and lack of pluralism of opinions in news content."
In Ukraine, the report said that in addition to the deaths of four journalists and violence associated with the separatist conflict in the east, one journalist was killed and at least 27 injured at the height of confrontations between protesters and police in Kyiv in February last year before the ouster of pro-Russian President Viktor Yanukovych.
Iraq's poor record was linked to the seizure of vast swaths of territory in the north and west of the country by Islamic State militants.
Freedom House said Tajikistan's Gorno-Badakhshan autonomous region and Russian-annexed Crimea were "prime examples" of how reporters were deliberately barred by "repressive governments."
The government of Serbian Prime Minister Aleksandar Vucic was criticized for trying to curb reporting about floods that hit the country and for "increasingly hostile rhetoric and harassment" of independent journalists.