Israel's press status has been downgraded from "free" to "partly free" in a report released on Friday by non-profit organization Freedom House, ahead of World Press Freedom Day today. The paper, titled "Freedom of the Press 2009," which reports a global decline in press freedom during 2008 - a seven-year downward trend - points to the conflict in Gaza as accounting for Israel's relegation. The report maintains that Operation Cast Lead created "increased travel restrictions on both Israeli and foreign reporters; official attempts to influence media coverage within Israel; and heightened self-censorship and biased reporting, particularly amid the outbreak of war in late December." Freedom House annually assigns each country a numerical rating between 1 and 100: 0 indicating the most free and 100 the least. This year's report assigned Israel a rating of 31, making it "partly free," and ranked it joint 59th internationally. The ranking was a slight drop from last year, when Israel's press was marked "free," with a rating of 30. The report also categorized the "occupied territories/Palestinian Authority" as "not free," as it did last year, with a rating of 84, ranking it 181st in the world. Although Israel was the only country in the region rated "free" last year, Israel's press remains tops in the Middle East and North Africa category. Kuwait appears second, also classified as "partly free," with a 55 rating. The region is consistently reported to have the worst average press freedom in the world. The paper indicates that there were twice as many loses as gains in 2008 and that, for the first time, declines have occurred in every region. Of the 195 countries and territories assessed in the study, 70 counties (36 percent) were rated "free," 61 countries (31%) were rated "partly free" and 64 countries (33%) were rated "not free." In terms of population, just 17% of the world's population live in countries that enjoy a "free" press, while 41% have a "partly free" press and 42% have a press classified as "not free." The world's worst-rated countries include Burma, Cuba, Eritrea, Libya, North Korea and Turkmenistan. In these states, says the study, "independent media are either non-existent or barely able to operate, and citizens' access to unbiased information is severely limited."