Ruling and aspiring dictators know very well how important freely flowing information is -- or not flowing, in this case.
Reporters Without Borders, a group dedicated to press freedom around the world, has released its annual survey ranking countries based on their press freedoms.
No, "the land of the free" with press and speech freedoms guaranteed by its Constitution, is not No. 1. In fact, we barely made the top 50.
This is largely because of arrogant trial judges who jail reporters to force them to reveal confidential sources so police, prosecutors and defense lawyers won't have to do their own investigations. And, oh yes, our government does have a couple of news service cameramen locked up without charges.
Leading the press freedoms list are Iceland and Norway, with former Russian satellites Estonia and Slovakia next, followed by Belgium. Finland, Sweden, Denmark, Ireland and Portugal.
The worst place in the world is Eritrea, the northeast African country where the president has banished the press and killed the reporters. Not far behind are perennial bad boys: North Korea, Turkmenistan, Iran, Cuba, Burma, China and Vietnam. Pakistan will join them soon.
In some countries, this repression has shifted to Internet bloggers. Their totalitarian governments have realized the nontraditional media also can be a player in the fight for democracy.
Vietnam, Egypt and Jordan all have jailed people for their online postings. China, with 40 bloggers in its prisons, has restricted all its Internet access. This policy is especially problematic; with the Olympics around the corner, and China's big push for foreign investment, it needs an Internet with more freedom.
Interestingly, blogs have replaced the press as the major source of information in some of these repressive states. In neofascist Iran, sources say, there are tens of thousands of blogs, and Farsi is the fourth-most-used language on the Internet.
Let's hope the mullahs that run things are Luddites, and are not knowledgeable enough to cut off this pipeline to democracy. People who truly crave freedom will find any means to chip away and break through the thick walls of oppression.