Eritrea has surpassed North Korea as the world's top press censor, with Syria and Iran placing third and fourth in a new list published Wednesday by the Committee to Protect Journalists.
The New York-based rights group said Eritrea had climbed to the top of the list by banning all foreign media and controlling every detail of the local media's coverage through its information ministry.
"Every time (a journalist) had to write a story, they arrange for interview subjects and tell you specific angles you have to write on," it quoted an exiled Eritrean journalist as saying on condition of anonymity.
"We usually wrote lots about the president (Issaias Afeworki) so that he's always in the limelight."
Secretive and highly authoritarian North Korea slipped to second after topping the list last year, with the CPJ saying "some tiny cracks have emerged" such as the opening of an Associated Press bureau in the capital Pyongyang.
However, foreign reporters are only rarely allowed in and details about Pyongyang's nuclear program and the new power structure following the death of ruler Kim Jong-Il remain "hidden beneath severe censorship," it said.
Syria has ratcheted up press restrictions since the outbreak of a popular revolt against President Bashar al-Assad a year ago, leaping from ninth on the CPJ's 2006 list to third in the latest one.
Damascus has heavily restricted media access, particularly to cities that have seen large protests and violence.
"By barring international media from entering and reporting freely and by attacking its own citizen journalists, Syria has sought to impose a news media blackout on a year-long military crackdown," the CPJ said.
Iran has meanwhile "mixed high-technology techniques such as Web blocking with brute-force tactics such as mass imprisonment of journalists to control the flow of information and obfuscate details of its own nuclear program."
Rounding out the list of the top 10 press censors was Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Cuba and Belarus.
The CPJ drew up the list based on 15 benchmarks, including the blocking of websites, the absence of privately-owned or independent media, restrictions on journalists' movements and security service monitoring of journalists.
For this list, the group only considered countries in which restrictions are imposed by the government and not cases like Mexico and Somalia where journalists are often forced to censor themselves because of crime or unrest.