Home of the Free? Not for Journalists

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Licensed through Creative Commons.

Photo by NASA Goddard Space Flight Center. Licensed through Creative Commons.

Posted by Avery Gregurich

Reporters Without Borders presents an annual “World Press Freedom Index”, ranking the 180 recognized countries using varying aspects of press freedom as the criteria. This year’s index was released in early February and placed perennial front runners Finland, Netherlands, and Norway in the top three positions.

Where, you may ask, did the first country to include a right to freedom of speech and press in its constitution land on the list?

46th.

46th, edged out by 45th Romania but sliding in before 47th Haiti.

This article by the Atlantic cites the report as saying that “the heritage of the 1776 constitution was shaken to its foundations during George W. Bush’s two terms as president by the way journalists were harassed and even imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources or sources or surrender their files to federal judicial officials.”

It goes on to say that “no fewer that (sic) eight individuals have been charged under the Espionage Act since Obama became president, compared with three during Bush’s two terms.”

The report also listed Edward Snowden’s discoveries of mass governmental surveillance, “the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning,” and the case of freelance journalist Barrett Brown, (who faces charges that could result in a total of 105 years in prison,) as evidencing the current state of press freedom in the U.S.

In just one year, the U.S. dropped 14 spots, from being ranked 32nd to 46th on the index.

How can the United States improve their standing on this index and work to fulfill the promise made 238 years ago, that its government shall not act in a way that could be described as “abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press?”

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4 responses to “Home of the Free? Not for Journalists

  1. Linley Sanders

    This is great information. I’m really glad you shared it in your blog post. I think that because the United States prides itself on freedom of speech, we assume it is something we don’t have to strive to maintain. The United States, in times of fear, finds ways to manipulate the media and assumed freedoms under the guise of national security. Especially as journalists, we need to be especially sure to speak out when press freedom is being questioned.

  2. I think Linley hit the nail on the head. The United States likes to think itself the poster child for freedom of speech and very clearly, reality paints a different picture. I was stunned when Snowden was called a traitor by many. Journalism has never been about telling the public what it wants to hear or protecting the government’s dirty little secrets. Shame on us, if that’s what we have come to.

  3. I agree with Linley as well. Freedom of speech and the press are crucial to having a well-functioning Democracy. We rely on the press to keep our elected government officials in check, as well as to protect our own civil liberties. Unfortunately, some provisions of the “hurriedly-passed” USA Patriot Act have infringed on our liberties and freedoms, including freedom of the press. It is entirely up to us as journalists to remain vigilant to these infringements and to keep the public informed of them. I agree that terrorism must be fought, but it is when the government begins a witch hunt among its own citizens when it starts appearing more like McCarthyism.

  4. McCarthyism is an adequate and terrifying way of framing it. The USA Patriot Act has certainly been troubling to all Americans and especially for journalists. This World Press Freedom Index simply supplies more evidence for that argument.

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