United States plummets in World Press Freedom Index

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By Claire Kokoska

Reporters Without Borders recently released its annual World Press Freedom Index, a ranking of the journalistic freedom for 180 countries. However, the result for the United States is somewhat concerning.

RWB gives each country a score between 0, having the greatest possible press freedom, and 100, having the lowest possible press freedom.

RWB judges countries with seven criteria: pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and abuses.

Since 2009, the U.S. has dropped from No. 20 to No. 49 in the index.

The U.S.’s given abuse score was a 31.78, meaning the U.S. press is stifled, more abusive and more corrupt than 55 percent of the nations ranked in this category.

Scandinavia, Japan, Germany and Canada are consistently more free in this sense than the U.S. However, in 2015, the U.S. press’ freedom ranking was lower than that of Trinidad and Tobago, Botswana, El Salvador, Burkina Faso and Niger. Haiti only lags behind the U.S. by four rankings.

The question to ask is: Why has the U.S. fallen behind in this crucial aspect of any healthy democracy?

Perhaps the foremost reason is the increasingly stringent efforts on the part of our government to ensure that classified information remains unknown to the public for reasons of national security via the Espionage Act.

In recent years, the Department of Justice has become far more severe in prosecuting whistleblowers of all kinds, bloggers and anyone who reveals highly illegal government activity.

Furthermore, laws that allow the seizure of phone, email, text messages and other digital records are becoming far more lenient.

Several events have contributed to the lowered ranking in recent years.

The mass arrests of journalists and citizens who were digitally recording events during the protests of the Occupy Movement and at Ferguson, and the prosecution of eight whistleblowers under the Espionage Act, to name a few.

This number of incidents is more than under any previous presidential administration. These individuals include Edward Snowden, who revealed the NSA domestic data-collection program; John Kiriakou, who released evidence confirming the CIA’s active torture program; and Jeffrey Sterling, a confidential source to a New York Times journalist who released information about U.S. efforts to stop Iran’s nuclear program.

There is serious danger in prosecuting those who alert the public to events that directly affect us, violate our rights and reflect government activity of which we do not approve.

Currently, there is a fight to establish a Federal Shield Law, to protect journalists and their confidential sources.

However, Jillian York, of the International Freedom of Expression program at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, notes that the language in the draft only protects those who are directly connected to a news media organization.

Therefore, the rights of anyone who films an incident with a camera, blogs or tweets about news events is not protected from prosecution.

As of 10 years ago, only six conglomerates controlled 90 percent of the media outlets in America.

When powerful conglomerates control nearly all news, the journalists who wish to cover an important story, unveil corruption in business or government or tell a critical story using classified government information from confidential sources simply cannot.

Essentially, no journalist is truly protected and able to report on the most important stories today. Something must change, and hopefully, the public can actively seek out independent media sources for their news and acknowledge assaults on journalistic freedom in whatever way possible.

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