The average global level of freedom of the press increased for the first time in eight years during 2011, according to a report by the human rights monitoring organisation Freedom House

The release of the Freedom of the Press 2012 report coincided with a UNESCO conference for World Press Freedom Day on 3 May. The report produces a score for each country and has been tracking press freedom for 32 years.

Many of the most significant gains followed the Arab spring. The toppling of long-standing dictators in Libya and Tunisia saw the countries make single-year leaps in press freedom that were previously unheard of.

Although some countries saw declines, including Syria, China and Bahrain, the report stated that the improvements elsewhere significantly outweighed this when looking at the global picture.

Outside of north Africa and the Middle East, the most significant gains came in Burma, known as one of the world’s most media-restrictive countries. Elsewhere, Zambia, Sierra Leone and Togo showed further improvements for the African continent and the press in Georgia, Nepal, Thailand, the Philippines and Indonesia also became more open.

“Free media transforms societies by enlightening the decision-making process with information, and thus empowering individuals to take control of their destinies,” said UNESCO.