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For the full infographic, visit: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/news/world/freedom-of-the-press-around-the-world/article2420552/?from=2420814

Before the fall of Moammar Gadhafi's regime in Libya, Huda Ben Amer presided over the Benghazi Media Center with an iron fist. She earned Mr. Gadhafi's admiration – and her nickname, "Huda the Executioner" – at a public hanging in 1984 in the city's basketball stadium.

The accused was 30-year-old Al-Sadek Hamed Al-Shuwehdy, an aeronautical engineer and political opponent of the regime. When he kicked and writhed on the gallows, Ms. Ben Amer stepped forward, grabbed him by the legs, and pulled hard until his body was still. Colonel Gadhafi, who watched the entire episode on live television, promoted her to mayor where she continued to epitomize the brutality and heavy-handedness of the regime.

After the revolution, in September, the National Transitional Council tweeted that Ms. Ben Amer had been arrested in Tripoli by its forces. But what's more interesting is what happened to the Media Center in Benghazi. It has become the birthplace of Libya's upstart independent media, consisting of newspapers and radio and television stations. Under Col. Gadhafi, Libyans lived under harsh censorship, but today a free press has become representative of their nascent democracy.

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The flourishing media scene in newly liberated countries such as Libya, Egypt, Myanmar and Tunisia was one of the key findings of a survey of global press freedom done by a watchdog group. The Freedom House report was released to coincide with the observance of Thursday's United Nations-declared World Press Freedom Day, which highlights the importance of independent media to democracy.

For the first time in the survey's eight-year history, global media freedom showed no overall decline. Libya and Tunisia moved from "not free" to "partly free" after the collapse of their dictatorships.

However, the Middle East remains one of the most repressive regions in the world, with nearly 71 per cent of people living in countries considered by Freedom House as "not free." In addition, some Western countries have fallen in the rankings.

The United States was criticized for heavy-handed police crackdowns on journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street protests in 2011. Britain was also downgraded for restricting journalists covering riots, and "super-injunctions" that prevent the media from reporting the existence of an injunction against coverage of certain celebrities and wealthy people.

Another watchdog group, the Committee to Protect Journalists, a New York-based non-profit, identified Eritrea as the country with the worst censorship, followed closely by North Korea, Syria and Iran. China, meanwhile, continues its reign as the world's largest country without press freedom, censoring coverage of everything from the Arab Spring to police brutality.

"In the name of stability or development, these regimes suppress independent reporting, amplify propaganda and use technology to control rather than empower their own citizens," Joel Simon, the group's executive director, said in a statement.

"Journalists are seen as a threat and often pay a high price for their reporting," he added. "But because the Internet and trade have made information global, domestic censorship affects people everywhere."

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One of the biggest game-changers in press freedom continues to be social media, which is challenging state censorship around the world. Facebook, Twitter and YouTube have transformed tens of thousands of people into citizen journalists, who report in extraordinarily dangerous situations using their smartphones.

In some countries, such as Syria, these reports are often the only way news of protests and violent crackdowns reach the wider world.

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Canada's annual report card

Although few Canadian journalists have experienced the sort of physical intimidation faced by their peers overseas, a review of free expression in this country includes warning bells. The group Canadian Journalists for Free Expression is slamming the "muzzling" of federal government climate scientists and Ottawa's Internet surveillance bill. But they offer qualified support for the Supreme Court and praise the public's engagement.

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Grade: F

Calling it an "extreme example of federal fixation" on message control, the report notes that climate-change coverage in the media dropped by 80 per cent after Ottawa's 2007 clampdown on federal scientists. The controls are so strict, the authors say, that some scientists have been unable to discuss work published in peer-reviewed journals.

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Grade: D

The Internet surveillance bill, C-30, which set off a firestorm of criticism after the government accused opponents of siding with child pornographers, is cited as the "heart" of the group's concerns about free expression online. But they are concerned as well about cuts to Internet access at libraries and community centres, which are described as "vital for both access to information and free expression."

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Grade: B+

Supreme Court decisions that warrantless wiretapping is unconstitutional and that hyperlinking libellous material is not the same as publishing it were praised for furthering free expression. But the court's grade was brought down by a decision barring access to records held in cabinet ministers' offices.

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Globe and Mail Staff

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