North last, South falling in press freedom

North Korea remains the country with the least press freedom in the world, according to the 2011 Press Freedom index from Washington, D.C., based Freedom House. The news isn’t a surprise to anyone that follows North Korea closely. There is a complete lack of independent media, official media is highly censored, and the government actively blocks foreign media from penetrating the country.

What’s perhaps more interesting is a drop in the rank of neighboring South Korea.

The survey ranks countries on 23 questions, assigning scores that are combined to provide a total. The total runs from 0 (best) to 100 (worst) and countries are ranked according to their ranking. Up to 30 qualifies as a free press, 31 to 60 is partly free, and 61 to 100 is not free.

Last year, South Korea scored 30 points to put it just in the free press category. This year it slipped to 32 points and earned a rating of “partly free.” (In contrast, North Korea moved from 99 to 97.)

In a report on the Freedom House website, the organization explained the move:

Contributing factors included an increase in official censorship as well as government attempts to influence media outlets’ news and information content. Over the past several years, an increasing number of online comments have been removed for expressing either pro–North Korean or anti–South Korean views. The current conservative government has also interfered in the management of major broadcast media, with allies of President Lee Myung-bak receiving senior posts at large media companies over the objections of journalists.

The conservative policies of the Lee Myung-bak government have resulted in closer scrutiny of websites and Twitter messages that are sympathetic to North Korean views or policies.

Under the liberal Roh Moo-hyun administration, the government blocked 1,238 articles in 2005; 1,388 in 2006; 1,434 in 2007; 1,793 in 2008. After Lee took office in 2008, that number jumped and 14,430 articles were blocked in 2009, according to a report by The Korea Times last year.

The South Korean government signaled its intention to step-up its filtering and further restrict its citizens from accessing, discussing or forwarding North Korean propaganda activity on social-networking services. The Justice Ministry’s annual report, published late last year, said it would take unspecified actions towards this goal in 2011.

An affiliate of 38 North