Peter Gross, the director of UT’s School of Journalism and Electronic Media, recently was in New York to serve as a ratings reviewer on Freedom House’s worldwide annual Freedom of the Press report.
Freedom House is an independent watchdog organization dedicated to the expansion of freedom and democracy around the world. It analyzes challenges to freedom, advocates for greater political rights and civil liberties, and supports frontline activists in defending human rights and promoting democratic change. Founded in 1941, Freedom House was the first American organization to champion the advancement of freedom globally.
Every year, the organization releases a report about each country’s freedom of the press. Freedom House chooses a new lineup of regional and country experts to serve as ratings review advisors every three years.
Gross and the other ratings review advisors review several reports about media issues from European countries, evaluate their accuracy, and suggest needed changes. Gross has been a ratings review advisor since 2013.
“It is a difficult assignment. In-country analysts provide a narrative of the previous year’s developments in each of the world’s countries,” said Gross. “The Freedom of the Press report is very important, judging by the reactions that it gets from governments across the world.”
A country’s press rating is simplified into one of three values: “Free,” “Partly Free,” or “Not Free.” Gross said there is more that goes into ranking a country than one would think.
“The press freedom report is a complex issue,” said Gross. “It is not spaghetti but lasagna, with many different layers.”
Gross said that freedom of the press means everything to him. Born and raised in Romania, he said that a free press has to be unconditional and guarded no less than life itself.
“I do think that those not born and raised in a totalitarian or authoritarian state have less of an appreciation of all freedoms simply because they did not have to live without them, to struggle to secure them,” said Gross.
He said the report is important because it keeps track of what is happening to the freedom of the press on a yearly basis. Laws, interpretations, and political, social, and economic issues that affect freedom of speech in each country are all examined in the report.
“Only 14 percent of the world’s citizens live in countries that enjoy a free press,” the organization’s website reports. “In the rest of the world, governments as well as non-state actors control the viewpoints that reach citizens and brutally repress independent voices who aim to promote accountability, good governance, and economic development.”
Gross will return to Freedom House next year with expanded duties.