Russian media experts disputed on Tuesday the accuracy of the 2011 Freedom of the Press report which ranks Russia 173rd out of 196 countries.
Russia jumped two positions in the report by the Washington-based Freedom House think tank, from 175th in 2010, but is still ranked on par with the Democratic Republic of Congo and Zimbabwe.
"I strongly disagree with those estimates, because, even if we do have negative factors, we are not at the level of Venezuela or certain African states," said Pavel Gusev, the chairman of the Russian Public Chamber's committee for media issues.
"Positive trends, media development and the fact that almost every Russian region has its own free media - free both in terms of their financial sources and in terms of expression - were ignored by Freedom House," said Gusev, who is also the editor-in-chief of the popular Moskovsky Komsomolets daily.
Russia has only a handful of independent newspapers and just one independent TV channel. There have been several murders and beatings of journalists critical of the authorities in recent years.
The Internet has remained mostly free of censorship, turning it into a forum for public discussion and dissent. President Dmitry Medvedev dismissed rumors last week that the government planned to impose Chinese-style restrictions on the Internet.
Mikhail Fedotov, head of the president's council on human rights and civil society, told RIA Novosti that media freedom in Russia is "neglected and in very poor condition, but the situation has changed for the better."
The head of Russia's Journalists Union, Vsevolod Bogdanov, said that journalists now "have less influence on public life than they should."
In its 2011 report, the Washington-based organization also noted a substantial decline of press freedom worldwide.
"The number of people worldwide with access to free and independent media declined to its lowest level in over a decade," the organization said in a statement.
The list rated 68 (35%) countries as "Free," 65 (33%) as "Partly Free," and 63 (32%) as "Not Free." Only one in six people live in countries designated as "Free."
The top three spots on the ranking were taken by Finland, Norway and Sweden, while Turkmenistan and North Korea held onto their spots at the bottom.
MOSCOW, May 3 (RIA Novosti)