Moral Low Ground

Civil Liberties

U.S. Plunges 27 Places to 47th in Reporters Without Borders’ 2011 Worldwide Press Freedom Rankings; Police Abuse of Journalists Covering ‘Occupy’ Movement Cited

Freedom of the press. It’s one of the very pillars that support the edifice of any healthy democracy. It is so important that it is enshrined in the First Amendment of America’s Bill of Rights. The United States was, for many, many years, a world leader in press freedom. Alas, those days are no more.

Oakland cops prepare to violate this reporter's press freedom at an October 'Occupy' protest. (Photo: Brett Wilkins)

Citing the targeting of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement, Reporters Without Borders has ranked the United States 47th on its annual Press Freedom Index, released on Wednesday. The U.S. plummeted a staggering 27 places from its #20 ranking in 2010.

“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011,” the report stated. “Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”

“This year’s index sees many changes in the rankings, changes that reflect a year that was incredibly rich in developments, especially in the Arab world,” the report said.  Indeed, the liberating effect of the Arab Spring revolts could be seen in Tunisia’s dramatic 30-spot rise in the rankings, from 164th to 134th place. But Egypt and Bahrain, where authorities continue to crack down hard on journalists, fell 39 and 29 places respectively, to 166th and 173rd out of 179 nations included in the rankings. Syria, where brutal repression of a popular uprising has claimed more than 5,000 lives, plunged to 176th place.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the five countries with the most press freedom are: Finland, Norway, Estonia, The Netherlands and Austria. The five countries with the least freedom are: Iran, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea. North Korean authorities must be celebrating in Pyongyang since the Hermit Kingdom somehow managed to avoid last place.

Tellingly, Afghanistan and Iraq, two countries that the United States invaded and occupied ostensibly to bring democracy to placed 150th and 152nd, respectively. Venezuela, whose leftist leader Hugo Chavez is incessantly excoriated by the United States for being an authoritarian tyrant, ranks more than 30 places above either of those countries.

Which brings us home to the United States, which is sandwiched between Taiwan and Argentina this year. That’s mainly due to the fact that police engaged in widespread abuse of journalists covering the Occupy Wall Street movement, preventing them from doing their jobs (at the best) and beating and arresting them (at the worst).

“The United States… owed its fall of 27 places to the many arrests of journalist covering Occupy Wall Street protests,” the report stated.

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