The annual Press Freedom Index produced by the independent organization Reporters Without Borders was released today and the United States was ranked a disappointing 46th in the 2014 index. The U.S. dropped a surprising 14 spots from last year’s 32nd place ranking. The Reporters Without Borders statement called the U.S. slide down the rankings “one of the most significant declines” in press freedom it had tracked during 2013.
The United States has also been criticized by the Committee to Protect Journalists. CPJ’s Attacks on the Press report last year pointed out that U.S. press freedom had “dramatically deteriorated” in 2013.
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Breaking down the Press Freedom Rankings
Finland, the Netherlands and Norway were ranked first through third, respectively, on the 2014 RWB Press Freedom Index. Finland has been ranked No. 1 for four consecutive years. New Zealand came in ninth and Sweden filled out the top 10. The U.S. at 46th was just one notch above Haiti and one below Romania. Cuba came in near the bottom of the list at 170th, and Eritrea came in dead last at 180th.
The United States was ranked 20th in the RWB Press Freedom Index in 2011. The U.S. ranking fell to 47th in 2012 after the government harassment of reporters covering the Occupy Wall Street movement, but bounced back to 32nd in 2013.
Explanation for low United States ranking
RWB pulled no punches in its explanation for why it knocked the United States down a full 14 spots in the 2014 rankings. They cited ramped up efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks, specifically mentioning Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden. RWB also criticized the ongoing surveillance of reporters by federal agencies, as well as the government bringing criminal charges against freelance digital journalist Barrett Brown, who now faces 105 years in prison for sharing a link to stolen classified data, and New York Times reporter James Risen for refusing to incriminate a CIA whistleblower.
Selected quotes from the report on the subject include: “Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law too often sacrifice the freedom of speech to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs.” and “Investigative journalism often suffers as a result of a disturbing retreat from democratic practices.”