Free Speech In The U.S.: America’s Position On The World Press Freedom Index Is Much Lower Than You Think

Aaron Homer - Author

Feb. 12 2015, Updated 9:28 a.m. ET

It doesn’t look good for press freedom in the United States: The World Press Freedom Index rankings for 2014 are out, and the United States has slipped three spots, to number 49 out of 180.

Each year, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) issues the World Press Freedom Index, an annual ranking of press freedom in each of 180 nations.

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“The Reporters Without Borders World Press Freedom Index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to a range of criteria that include media pluralism and independence, respect for the safety and freedom of journalists, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.”

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The worst offenders on the list are consistently despotic, Third World regimes, and the 2014 bottom three offenders — North Korea, Eritrea, and Turkmenistan — continue that trend. The top three performers are consistently Scandinavian countries; the top three in 2014 were Finland, Norway, and Denmark.

Though the United States ostensibly enshrines the freedom of the press in the Constitution, the reality is that the U.S. falls far behind the rest of the First World in press freedom, ranking behind such places as Burkina Faso and Niger, and just ahead of Comoros, Taiwan, and Romania.

Though the U.S.’s spot on the Press Freedom Index has moved about over the years, it’s fallen considerably since the beginning of the Obama administration, according to Newsmax.

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Some of the factors leading to the U.S.’s dismal showing in the Press Freedom Index include the administration’s poor handling of three major events.

  • Former Army Private Bradley/Chelsea Manning’s release of thousands of pages of classified Army documents to Wikileaks; Manning is currently serving 35 years for violating the Espionage Act.
  • Former defense contractor Edward Snowden, who released details of warrantless wiretapping by the National Security Administration. Snowden is currently living in exile in Russia.
  • New York Times journalist James Risen, whom the Justice Department at one time threatened to imprison if he didn’t reveal his sources (the Justice Department later backed off of that threat).

Other attacks on press freedom in the United States in 2014 came not from the federal level but from state and local authorities. Most damning were the attacks on press freedom during the aftermath of the shooting of unarmed black teenager Mike Brown in Ferguson, Missouri. Some examples include an Al Jazeera camera crew’s equipment being destroyed by police, a no-fly zone over the city, and two Washington Post reporters being roughed up by police in military gear.

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Regardless, the situation could be much worse. As of this post, journalists in the United States don’t face torture, state-sanctioned execution, or indefinite detention without charges like they do in some of the worst-offending countries.

Do you believe the Obama administration is to blame for the U.S.’s continual fall in the Press Freedom Index rankings? Share your thoughts in the Comments below.

[Image courtesy of Getty Images/Rob Stothard]


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