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Image from the storyFreedom of the Press Around the World

Target Grade Levels:
Grades 7-12

Individual Rights, Media, Freedom of the Press, Democracy

• The Activity
• Extensions
• Relevant National Standards
• Cross-Curricular Activities
• Ties to Literature

The Activity

The United Nations has declared that freedom of the press is a basic human right (Article 19, Universal Declaration of Human Rights). Despite this assertion, press freedoms vary greatly worldwide. Begin an exploration of press freedoms around the world by looking first at freedom of the press in the United States. Post the following statement where the class can see it.

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...of the press."

Ask students to spend five minutes writing in their journal about why the authors of the Constitution would have placed such a limit on government. What benefits might a free press bring to society?

Invite students to share what they wrote, and based on their ideas, create a class list, Benefits of a Free Press, to refer to later. Possible responses might include "Provides uncensored coverage of issues," "Helps citizens make informed decisions" and "Serves as a government watchdog."

Next, explain that even though the press can provide valuable benefits to society, being a journalist is a dangerous job in many countries around the world. Display the map "The Most Dangerous Places for Journalists."
Before clicking on the map's questions, review with students some of the written protections for journalists (discussed in the short article below the map). Then go to the map's questions, but still don't click on them -- ask students to predict the answers. After students have seen the answers, compare and discuss student predictions with the information presented in the map. Ask students if they think the stories covered by journalists are worth the risks the journalists take. Why or why not?

Tell students that they will now look more closely at freedom of the press in select countries. Divide students into groups and have each group research one of the areas listed below. Helpful research starting points are provided for each country.

Cambodia: Pol Pot's Shadow
Media Resources

Reporter's Diary

Synopsis of "Pol Pot's Shadow" Story

Iran: Forbidden Iran
Interview With Jane Kokan, FRONTLINE/World Reporter

Press Freedoms: Links

Media Resources

Press Freedoms: Facts & Stats

Synopsis of "Forbidden Iran" Story

Iraq: Truth and Lies in Baghdad
(Note: This November 2002 story details press censorship under the rule of Saddam Hussein.)
Interview With Sam Kiley

Press in Iraq

Press Freedom in Iraq: Links

Israel/Palestinian Territories: In the Line of Fire
(Note: This story focused specifically on press freedoms, so all the resources are relevant and helpful.)

Moscow: Rich in Russia
Media in Russia

Reporter's Notebook

Vladimir Gusinksy, Media Magnate

Nigeria: The Road North
Christine Anyanwu, Journalist

Media Resources

Synopsis of "The Road North" Story

Thoughts of a Favorite Son

North Korea: Suspicious Minds
Interview With Ben Anderson, FRONTLINE/World Reporter

Media Resources

Synopsis of "Suspicious Minds" Story

Pakistan: On a Razor's Edge
Ahmed Rashid: Critical Journalist

Jugnu Mohsin: Newspaper Editor

Media Resources

Sharmeen Obaid: FRONTLINE/World Reporter

Sri Lanka: Living in Terror
A Lonely Warrior for Human Rights: Reporting Human Rights Abuses

The Making of a Suicide Bomber: A Journalist's Battle Against Suicide Bombing and Human Rights Violations

Online Resources From Sri Lanka

Reporter's Diary: 34 Days in Sri Lanka

In their research, student groups should look for the following types of information: The country's form of government; the degree of political influence over the news media; the level of access journalists have to information and news sources; evidence of censorship or intimidation of journalists by the state or others; government pressures on media through licensing and advertising funds; and so on. Based on their research findings, student groups should assign their country one of the following press freedom ratings: Free, Partly Free or Not Free.

Have groups combine their findings to create a Press Freedom Report Card for Select Countries. The report card should include the countries studied, their form of governments, the ratings given to each country by students and evidence from student research to support each rating. Groups should then take turns showing the class where the country they've studied is located on a map and presenting their findings. What similarities and differences do students notice among the profiled countries? What political, historical and social factors might influence freedom of the press in these areas? What might happen if press freedoms in these countries are increased? (Have students refer back to the Benefits of a Free Press list created earlier in the activity.) If they are decreased?

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Expand class discussion on freedom of the press by exploring additional FRONTLINE/World stories related to this topic:

China: Silenced
Experience a reporter's nightmare when Chinese authorities arrest her and a man she interviewed, confiscate her videotape, interrogate her for 24 hours, and take the man she interviewed away to an unknown fate.

Iran: Going Nuclear
Discover the challenges faced by reporter Paul Kenyon as he tried to document Iran's nuclear program.

Iraq: Reporting the War
Take a look at the hazards faced by journalists in Iraq, and examine global data on the number of journalists that die on the job each year, where they die, who helps them do their work, and equipment they need to do their job.

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Relevant National Standards

These standards are drawn from "Content Knowledge," a compilation of content standards and benchmarks for K-12 curriculum by McRel (Mid-continent Research for Education and Learning) at

Standard 8: Understands the central ideas of American constitutional government and how this form of government has shaped the character of American society
Level III, Benchmark 4
Understands how specific provisions of the United States Constitution (including the Bill of Rights) limit the powers of government in order to protect the rights of individuals (e.g., habeas corpus; trial by jury; ex post facto; freedom of religion, speech, press and assembly; equal protection of the law; due process of law; right to counsel)
Standard 25: Understands issues regarding personal, political and economic rights
Level III, Benchmark 4
Understands the importance to individuals and society of such political rights as the right to vote and run for public office and the freedom of speech, press, assembly and petition

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Cross-Curricular Activities
Consider building on the themes of the above activity by working with colleagues in other disciplines to conduct the following activities.

Write a Job Description for the Position of "Government Minder" (English)

The Activity

Several journalists reporting for FRONTLINE/World were assigned "minders," or official government representatives, whose job it was to show these reporters specific details about the country while limiting access to unfavorable information. You can read about some journalists' experiences with such government minders in the interviews with reporters Nguyen Qui Duc in Vietnam,
Ben Anderson in North Korea,
Sam Kiley
in Iraq,
and Jane Kokan in Iran.
Show students where the countries visited by these reporters are located. Then, ask students to write a job description for the position of government minder based on what they learn from the reporters. Be sure students include the background and qualifications that are required and a summary of the job's responsibilities. Then discuss how things would be different if the position of minder disappeared.


The full stories reported by Nguyen Qui Duc, Ben Anderson, and Sam Kiley are all available on the Web on the streaming video page:

Transcripts of each story are also available:

"Vietnam: Looking for Home"
"North Korea: Suspicious Minds"
"Iraq: Truth and Lies in Baghdad"

Visit the Web resources for each story for related links, facts, and features:

"Vietnam: Looking for Home"
"North Korea: Suspicious Minds"
"Iraq Truth and Lies in Baghdad"

Relevant National Standards

Language Arts, Standard 1: Uses the general skills and strategies of the writing process

Related Activities

This activity is part of a suite of activities developed around the theme of the Cold War and Beyond. Additional activities developed under this theme include:

From Arms Race to Arms Sales (Politics)

Face-Off: United States Foreign Policy With North Korea (Politics)

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