Today is World Press Freedom Day, and Reporters without Borders has ranked 180 nations around the world according to how free journalists are to do their work. Many Americans probably think the U.S. is toward the top of the list, given that the U.S. Constitution includes freedom of the press as one of the most basic rights of citizens. However, that’s not the case. In fact, the U.S. ranks in 48th place after falling three notches from last year.
Press freedom in the U.S. is declining
According to Reporters without Borders, American journalists deal with “hostility from local and federal governments” and legal threats, both to themselves and their sources. The organization said its second annual survey of freedom of the press in the U.S. points to a “troubling escalation in the level of violence aimed at journalists and government actions threatening press freedoms.”
Key findings from the report for World Press Freedom Day include the fact that violence against reporters has escalated. The organization said in 2018 there were 35 physical attacks against 42 journalists ranging from assault to the explosive devices that were mailed to CNN’s offices. About one-third of the attacks took place at demonstrations, which is a significant drop from 2017 when most assaults occurred at protests. The organization even had to add a new category for 2018 following the deadly shooting at a newspaper in June 2018, which claimed the lives of four reporters and one sales assistant.
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The organization also reports that the number of prosecutions over “leaks” and subpoenas increased, and prior restraint cases, which were once rare, became more common last year. Efforts to deny reporters access to government events increased. The only good thing was that “only” 11 journalists were arrested in the U.S. last year, compared to 34 the previous year.
Reporters without Borders compiled a collection of articles about problems journalists have faced while trying to report the news in the U.S.
The best and worst countries for journalists
In case you’re wondering which country took the top spot in the rankings for World Press Freedom Day, the honor goes to Norway, which managed an “abuse score” of 0 and maintained its position at the top of the list for another year. The other top countries were, in order: Finland, Sweden, the Netherlands, Denmark, Switzerland, New Zealand, Jamaica, Belgium and Costa Rica. It’s probably not much of a surprise that most of the top countries are in the same part of the world.
The bottom 10 of the list for World Press Freedom Day are all from Africa and Asia. Starting from the bottom at number 180, they are: Turkmenistan, North Korea, Eritrea, China, Vietnam, Sudan, Syria, Djibouti, Saudi Arabia and Laos.
Methodology for World Press Freedom Day rankings
To compile the rankings, Reporters without Borders distributed a questionnaire focusing on various criteria around press freedom. The responses from the questionnaires and data on violence and abuse of journalists are combined to come up with the rankings.
Among the categories covered in the rankings are: pluralism (how many opinions are represented in the nation’s media outlets), media independence from government, business or religion, environment and self-censorship, legislation, transparency, infrastructure and abuses.
You can read more about the methodology here.