The United States continues to fall in how it compares to the rest of the free (and not so free) world in its freedom of the press. At least that is the view of the international press rights group, Reporters Without Borders (RWB), in its just-released 2015 World Press Freedom Index. It is the most recent edition of RWB’s annual survey of how much freedom journalists and news organizations enjoy around the world.
After a rather dismal performance in last year’s ranking — 46 out of 180, and a 13-place drop from the year before — the US sunk even lower this year to the number 49 spot. And again it placed us surprisingly lower in press freedoms than a number of countries without the democratic lifeblood or history that supposedly sets us apart on the international stage. This would include the likes of El Salvador (45), Tonga (44), Botswana (42), Slovenia (35), Latvia (28), Uruguay (23), Ghana (22), Namibia (17) and Slovakia (14).
And what is the reason for this continued slide in how RWB perceives US press freedoms? It is all about the US treatment of intelligence whistleblowers and the journalists who give them a voice. In an interview with CNN, RWB’s Delphine Halgand could not have been clearer in where his organization sees the US has strayed: “We consider that the Obama administration has launched a war against whistleblowers.” With President Obama’s prosecution of eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, more than all previous presidential administrations combined, Halgand stressed what he sees as “a continuation of the concern . . . that national security protection has been more and more threatening freedom of information in the U.S.”
Of course, there are many attributes of a free and open press that go well beyond the treatment of intelligence whistleblowers and the journalists who assist them. But until the US takes a more light-handed approach with this select group, it is unlikely the US will ever climb out of the basement of the RWB rankings, or approach the rankings of some of its closest democratic allies — New Zealand (6), Canada (8), Ireland (11), Germany (12), Australia (25), United Kingdom (34). But as poor a showing as the US continues to have in this area, and as far removed as it remains from those Scandinavian countries that top the list — Finland, Norway, Denmark — at least the US still sits considerably above Russia (152), the country to which our most famous intelligence whistleblower, Edward Snowden, ironically was forced to find refuge.
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