U.S. falling behind — in press freedom

There’s plenty of problems plaguing the press, particularly the mainstream media. The digital and social media world seem to have preempted or seriously damaged the traditional press. But I found this a real shock: the United States fell from 20th to 47th in the annual Press Freedom Index of Reporters Without Borders.

Twentieth was bad enough but 47th??? Granted, there’s 179 countries on the list but the ranking puts America outside the top 25 percent. Here’s a few of the countries where the press enjoys more freedom than America: Estonia, Namibia, Mali, Papua New Guinea, El Salvador, Botswana and Comoros (which I admit I’d not heard of before). Now I’m not dissing any of these countries. It would just seem that a country that holds itself out as a beacon of freedom ought to do better.

What is it that brought the ranking down? The response to another First Amendment right — protest, specifically the arrests of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street protests. According to the report:

The crackdown on protest movements and the accompanying excesses took their toll on journalists. In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation.

It’s hard to believe some 25+ arrests were alone sufficient to create such a drastic decline. That is only one of the measurements in the 44 main criteria used to compile the index, which covers the period from December 2010 through November 2011. These include physical attacks, threats, censorship, harassment, the country’s legal framework and the level of press independence. Certainly, there are many other things at play in the decline. I’d hate to think where we’d be if it weren’t for the First Amendment

It is our attitude toward free thought and free expression that will determine our fate.

William O. Douglas

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