Press Freedom: US Drops to 53rd
The US dropped 9 places in the
2006 Index of Press Freedom by Reporters Without Borders issued
by Blake Fleetwood, 11/24/06
52 countries ranked higher and 115 ranked
Finland, Iceland, Ireland and the Netherlands
tied for first, with no recorded censorship, threats, intimidation
or physical reprisals -- criterion that the Paris-based group
uses to rank countries.
The US was outranked by most of the European
counties, but also by such unlikely nations as Slovakia, Slovenia,
Bosnia and Herzegovina, Estonia, Namibia, Bulgaria, Serbia, and
As you might expect, the three worst violators
of free expression were North Korea, at the bottom of the Index
at 168th place, Turkmenistan (167th) and Eritrea (166th).
One particularly egregious US case cited
is the jailing of Josh Wolf, a freelance journalist and blogger,
who has been imprisoned more than four months for refusing to
hand over video tapes he filmed in San Francisco of a protest
against the G8 Summit last year.
"As journalists we use our cameras
and words to share the world around us," Josh Wolf wrote
"We hope that shedding light on the
situation will help to bring about change and that having a camera
rolling will help curtail injustice. As they say, 'The whole world
Earlier this week the Ninth Federal Appeals
Court ruled that Wolf might be imprisoned until July 2007 when
the Grand Jury expires. The video footage of the attack on a police
car was aired by a cable TV station and then picked up by local
affiliates of the national networks.
"He's not a criminal," said
Lucie Morillion of Reporters Without Borders. "He was just
protecting his sources, which is something many journalists have
to do. The court decision is absurd."
"This young blogger does not represent
any threat to national security, so keeping him in custody is
a completely disproportionate step," said a representative
of the worldwide press freedom organization -- a.k.a. Reporters
Sans Frontiers -- after the November 16th ruling.
"The judges seem to want to teach
a lesson to Wolf, a young man whose insolence exasperated them."
Wolf's only hope would be a successful
appeal to the US Supreme Court, which does not look promising
in this climate.
Other cases of US press intimidation include
Sudanese cameraman Same al-Hajj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster
Al-Jazzeera, who has been held without trial since June 2002 at
the US military base at Guantanamo; and Associated Press photographer
Bilal Hussein, who has been held by US authorities in Iraq since
April. The AP has been trying to secure his release for seven
During the first year of the index, in
2002, the US was ranked 17th. The US has fallen nine places since
last year's ranking of 44, and 36 places since 2002.
Relations between the media and the Bush
administration sharply deteriorated after the Justice Department
increasingly used "national security" and the Patriot
Act to intimidate journalists who questioned "the war on
terrorism," according to the group.
33 US state courts recognize some form
of Shield Law, but the Federal Courts have consistently refused
to recognize the media's right not to reveal its sources. In recent
years the US government has shown renewed zeal, threatening journalists
whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.
Bloggers -- including us at the Huffington
Post -- and websites, as well as grassroots journalists, are becoming
increasingly vulnerable. They do not seem to be protected by any
US laws at all, since they are not paid MSM staff professionals.
But as the Judith Miller case shows, even New York Times reporters
are not immune.
Other countries' rankings include: Canada
(16), Israel (50), Mexico (132), Iraq (154), China (163) and Cuba
In addition to the US, other developed
nations that also fell in the rankings are France, Japan, and
France (35th) slipped five places during
the past year, to make a loss of 24 places in five years. The
increase in searches of media offices and journalists' homes is
disturbing media organizations and trade unions.
Rising nationalism and the system of exclusive
press clubs (kishas) threatened democratic gains in Japan, which
fell 14 places to 51st. The newspaper Nihon Keizai was firebombed
and several journalists physically attacked by far-right activists
Fallout from the row over the "Mohammed
Denmark (19th) dropped from first place
because of serious threats against the authors of the Mohammed
cartoons published in 2005. For the first time in recent years
in a country that is very observant of civil liberties, journalists
have needed police protection due to threats against them.
Currently about 120 journalists and 53
bloggers are in jail worldwide for attempting to provide news
Without press freedom, there can be no
democracy, and without democracy......