Winnipeg Free Press - ONLINE EDITION

U.S. tumbles in press-freedom rankings

  • Print
Lucie Morillon, head of research at French watchdog of Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) holds a banner depicting Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest against violence in Syria, in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Syria is one of the worst countries for press freedom, ranking 177 out of 180, according to a new Reporters Without Borders report.

FRANCOIS MORI / THE ASSOCIATED PRESS FILES Enlarge Image

Lucie Morillon, head of research at French watchdog of Reporters Sans Frontieres (Reporters without Borders) holds a banner depicting Syrian human rights activist Mazen Darwish during a protest against violence in Syria, in Paris, Saturday, Oct. 20, 2012. Syria is one of the worst countries for press freedom, ranking 177 out of 180, according to a new Reporters Without Borders report.

WASHINGTON — Armed conflict and government surveillance in the name of national security: Together they make up the world’s most serious threats to press freedoms, according to Reporters Without Borders’ annual examination of press freedoms around the world.

Some of the biggest offenders aren’t surprising: Syria, where dozens of journalists have been killed or gone missing; the Central African Republic, where journalists have been caught up in the country’s descent into staggering violence; and Mali, where in November two French reporters were abducted and killed.

But one of the report’s main targets isn’t a war-torn Middle Eastern or African country. It’s the United States, which dropped 13 places on the index, to 46 out of 180, putting it just behind Trinidad and Tobago, Papua New Guinea and Romania.

"This year, the ranking of some countries, including democracies, has been impacted by an overly broad and abusive interpretation of the concept of national security protection," Reporters Without Borders’ head of research, Lucie Morillon, said in a statement.

The report points to the conviction of WikiLeaks source Chelsea Manning and the continuing pursuit of NSA whistleblower Edward Snowden as factors that have created a threatening environment for American reporters and sources. Reporters Without Borders also cites the U.S. Justice Department’s move to secretly obtain two months of phone records from the Associated Press in a search for information about a CIA leak of a foiled terror plot. It did so by serving a subpoena to its phone provider, Verizon, for which the Justice Department didn’t even need a warrant. The entire probe was done in accordance with the Electronic Communications Privacy Act of 1986, and the AP reportedly didn’t know about any of it until three months after it happened.

"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," according to the report, which was released this week.

Reporters Without Borders citedthe AP flap as one instance with troubling implications for press freedom in the United States, a democratic country where communications are subject to increasingly sweeping electronic surveillance: Those seeking to lift a veil on classified government activity can’t reasonably expect the full privacy of their, or their sources’, communications.

"Prosecutors have sought phone records from reporters before, but the seizure of records from such a wide array of AP offices, including general AP switchboards numbers and an office-wide shared fax line, is unusual," the AP article on the seizure noted at the time.

Thanks to the Snowden revelations, the United States isn’t the only democracy to fall in this year’s index. Great Britain also suffered, falling three places to number 33. The report cited the government’s harassment of the Guardian newspaper and its journalists after they published numerous stories based on the Snowden document.

According to the report, Finland tops the charts in press freedom, followed by the Netherlands, Norway and Luxembourg. On the other end of the spectrum, Eritrea comes in last at 180. Syria, Turkmenistan and North Korea rank at 177, 178 and 179, respectively.

Of course, the explosion of armed conflict, particularly in Africa and the Middle East, has also taken its toll on the state of press freedom in those countries. "In an unstable environment, the media become strategic goals and targets for groups or individuals whose attempts to control news and information violate the guarantees enshrined in international law," the report said.

Some of the biggest drops due to such conflict were in the Central African Republic (down a staggering 34 places to 109), which has been witnessing a steady descent into violence since March 2013, and Mali (down 22 to 122), where Islamist groups have been vying for control since 2012. In October, Reporters Without Borders condemned the threats directed at C.A.R. journalists by a newly formed police force, called the Extraordinary Committee for the Defence of Democratic Achievements. The police force, founded by a general in the Seleka rebel coalition that had ousted the previous government earlier in the year, developed a reputation for harassing members of the media and conducted a "heavy-handed interrogation" of the editors of three Bangui-based dailies in October.

Syria came in four places from the bottom at 177, but its rank remained unchanged. The poor state of media freedom in the country, which has been wracked by protracted civil war since 2011, should perhaps come as no surprise. In a recent article for Foreign Policy, James Traub painted an especially bleak picture of reporting on the conflict there, where jihadi groups make explicit targets of reporters. Traub wrote of a post on a jihadi website that warned of "a type of spy who collects the news and gives it to their masters in detailed reports, which would hurt the jihadis." The post reminded readers of the need to capture "every journalist."

As of the article’s publication, there were at least 30 journalists in captivity in the country.

Fact Check

Fact Check

Have you found an error, or know of something we’ve missed in one of our stories?
Please use the form below and let us know.

* Required
  • Please post the headline of the story or the title of the video with the error.

  • Please post exactly what was wrong with the story.

  • Please indicate your source for the correct information.

  • Yes

    No

  • This will only be used to contact you if we have a question about your submission, it will not be used to identify you or be published.

  • Cancel

Having problems with the form?

Contact Us Directly
  • Print

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

You can comment on most stories on winnipegfreepress.com. You can also agree or disagree with other comments. All you need to do is be a Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscriber to join the conversation and give your feedback.

Have Your Say

New to commenting? Check out our Frequently Asked Questions.

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press print or e-edition subscribers only. why?

Have Your Say

Comments are open to Winnipeg Free Press Subscribers only. why?

The Winnipeg Free Press does not necessarily endorse any of the views posted. By submitting your comment, you agree to our Terms and Conditions. These terms were revised effective April 16, 2010.

letters

Make text: Larger | Smaller

LATEST VIDEO

Theresa Oswald Leadership Bid

View more like this

Photo Store Gallery

  • JOE.BRYKSA@FREEPRESS.MB.CA Local-(Standup photo)- Humming Around- A female ruby -throated hummingbird fly's through the bee bomb  flowers Friday at the Assiniboine Park English Garden- Nectar from flowers are their main source of food. Hummingbirds wings can beat as fast as 75x times second. Better get a glimpse of them soon the birds fly far south for the winter - from Mexico to South America- JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS- Sept 10, 2009
  • JOE BRYKSA/WINNIPEG FREE PRESS Local-(Standup photo)- A wood duck swims through the water with fall refections in Kildonan Park Thursday afternoon.

View More Gallery Photos

Poll

How will you be spending the holiday season? (select all that apply)

View Results

Ads by Google