Daniel Ellsberg, the whistleblower responsible for releasing the Pentagon Papers, speaks during a rally in support of Army Pfc. Bradley Manning outside the gates of Fort Meade, Md., Saturday, June 1, 2013. . (AP/Patrick Semansky)
The U.S. is ranked 41 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index, which measures the “level of freedom of information in 180 countries.”
According to the organization, the U.S. moved from 49 in 2015 to 41 this year, though it warned that the “relative improvement by comparison hides overall negative trends.”
Citing the U.S. government’s “war on whistleblowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter-terrorism,” and the country’s lack of a “shield law” that would allow journalists to protect confidential sources, the report takes a decidedly negative view of U.S. press freedom.
Some of the policies condemned in the report come from President Obama’s administration, as NPR’s Sam Sanders has reported:
“[Obama’s] Justice Department has cracked down on reporters in an effort to prevent leaks; it also set a new record for withholding access to government files under the Freedom of Information Act (despite calling for a “new era of openness” on his first day in office); and photojournalists in 2013 from several major news organizations chastised the Obama administration for denying their ‘right to photograph or videotape the President while he is performing his official duties,’ instead relying on official photos shot by White House photographers.”
The Reporters Without Borders index also points to the 2016 presidential race and #BlackLivesMatter protests as places where press freedom has been trampled:
“Since the primaries began last summer, journalists have seen their access to campaign events regularly restricted by candidates from both political parties and have been insulted and even bullied on social media. [Reporters Without Borders] is also still troubled by the arrest of journalists during #Blacklivesmatter protests in Baltimore and Minneapolis.”
While the report does praise a new federal policy mandating more communication and transparency regarding U.S. hostage cases, the group’s U.S. Director Delphine Halgand says in the report that there is still “room for improvement in the country of the First Amendment.”
The Scandinavian countries of Finland, Netherlands, Norway and Denmark are ranked in the top four spots, while Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea are in the last four places.