U.S. Slides 13 Spots on Press Freedom Index

NewspapersIf it wasn’t enough to see the

United States slide in four rankings of economic freedom, Internet
liberty, and government transparency last year
, the Land of the
Brave and Home of the Free (except where prohibited by law) is off
to a swell start in 2014 by slipping 13 places on the World Press
Freedom Index. Compiled by Reporters Without Borders, the Index
keeps a running tally of governments’ respect for journalistic
freedomson matters ranging from legislative restrictions to
outright whacking of reporters. The U.S. has taken a hit largely
from the post-9/11 insistence on fetishizing claims of “national
security” (Rep. Mike Rogers now wants to
criminalize the publication of sensitive information
like that
released by Edward Snowden) and from the Obama administration’s

crusade against whistleblowers

As the Index
puts it

Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and
respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it.
Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad
and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a
disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative
journalism often suffers as a result.

This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell
13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased
efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The
trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of
NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of
assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would
clearly be in the public interest.

US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s
seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning
in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a
reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the
confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The
revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James
Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court
order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking
classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young
freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with
the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a
private intelligence company with close ties to the federal

The U.S, isn’t the only backslider on the Index. France and the
U.K. also lost position, though not by as much as the U.S. The
European Union, as a whole, is suffering because “Membership
negotiations are no longer necessarily accompanied by efforts to
increase respect for civil liberties.” As a result, several
governments have taken advantage of a lack of outside pressure to
crck down internally.

By contrast, Finland, the Netherlands, and Norway top the Index
in first, second, and third places respectively. Of Finland, the
Index notes the first-place ranking despite rarely enforced laws
that criminalize defamation, including potential imprisonment of
journalists, in certain circumstances. For perpetual complainers
about “corporate news,” the index also notes that, even though
three companies dominate Finland’s media, “there is a great deal of
media pluralism despite the concentrated ownership.”

Turkmenistan, North Korea, and Eritrea do a swell job of
anchoring the last three places on the Index.

2014 World Press Freedom Index

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