From left to right: Dana Popescu-Jourdy, Tudor Vlad and Nicoleta Corbu.

Research Team Examines Differences in Measurement of Press Freedom for Lyon Conference

While Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders use seemingly similar measures of press freedom around the world, important differences between the measures exist, researchers from the University of Georgia and the University of Hamburg told a gathering of international scholars in Lyon,France,in early July.

Freedom House, based in the United States, has a more institutional focus, giving particular weight to constraints on the media from governmental and economic sources, Dr. Lee B. Becker told the gathering.

Reporters Without Borders, in contrast, focuses more heavily on attacks on journalists coming from a variety of sources, the University of Georgia researcher said.

Dr. Becker was joined in the presentation by co-authors Laura Schneider from the University of Hamburg and Dr. Tudor Vlad, also from the University of Georgia.

Dr. Becker is director of the James M. Cox Jr. Center for International Mass Communication Training and Research, a unit of the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication at the University of Georgia. Dr. Vlad is associate director of the Cox Center.

Ms. Schneider, a doctoral student in Hamburg and a working journalist, spent April working in the Cox Center with Drs. Becker and Vlad on press freedom issues. The paper presented in Lyon was an outgrowth of that collaboration.

About 50 scholars from around the world attended the conference, held at the University of Lyon 2 on July 2 and 3. The conference was organized by the French university as well as by the National School of Political Studies and Public Administration in Bucharest, Romania, and the Cox Center. These three institutions will organize another conference on mass communication in Athens, Georgia in 2013.

Scholars came from such countries as Iran, India, Egypt, Kuwait, Malta, Mexico, Australia, Brazil, Turkey, the UK, as well as from France, Romania and the United States. The keynote speaker was Dr. Klaus Schoenbach, chairman of the Department of Communication, University of Vienna, Austria.

Dr. J. Igor Israel Gonzalez Aguirre, Universidad de Guadalajara, at the Lyon conference.

Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders are the most prominent organizations monitoring media systems around the world. They score each of the countries annually in terms of the level of press freedom.

Drs. Becker and Vlad have developed a program of scholarship evaluating the measurement of media freedom and have used the Freedom House and Reporters Without Borders measures in that work.

The two organizations "produce evaluations that are more similar than different," the research team told the gathering in Lyon.

"But that simple conclusion does mask some important differences," they said. "The distributions of scores across the countries are quite different."

In neither case are the scores normally distributed, acccording to the paper authors. In the case of Reporters Without Borders, the distribution is heavily skewed, with countries concentrated at the high end of the scale (more press freedom).

The Freedom House distribution is consistently bimodal, they reported, reflecting historical classifications of countries that seem to influence how the current scale is used.

The paper also examined discrepancies in the way the two nongovernmental organizations evaluated individual countries year-to-year. Those analyses indicated the discrepancies reflect the different basic orientations of the two organizations.

Where the two groups evaluated countries differently, the differences reflected the institutional focus of Freedom House and the focus of Reporters Without Borders on attacks on journalists.