Moral Low Ground

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US Falls to 49th on Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index

(Reporters Without Borders)

(Reporters Without Borders)

The United States has fallen three places to 49th in global press freedom, according to the newly-released Reporters Without Borders 2015 World Press Freedom Index.

The index ranks the performance of 180 countries according to numerous criteria, including medial pluralism and independence, respect for journalists’ safety and freedom, and the legislative, institutional and infrastructural environment in which the media operate.

“The 2015 World Press Freedom Index highlights the worldwide deterioration in freedom of information in 2014,” Reporters Without Borders said in a statement accompanying the release of the report. “Beset by wars, the growing threat from non-state operatives, violence during demonstrations and the economic crisis, media freedom is in retreat on all five continents.”

This year, Finland, Norway and Denmark top the list. They are followed by the Netherlands, Sweden, New Zealand and Austria. Rounding out the top 10 are Canada, Jamaica and Estonia. At the bottom of the list are Eritrea, which ranks worse than North Korea at #179. Turkmenistan, Syria, China, Vietnam, Sudan, Iran, Somalia and Laos are the other nations which rank among the 10 worst for press freedom.

At 49th, the US registers its worst ranking of President Barack Obama’s tenure, although it is still rated as ‘satisfactory.’ This also marks the second-worst ranking for America since the index launched in 2002. Under President George W. Bush, the US placed 53rd in 2006.

Reporters Without Borders cited government persecution of journalists, including James Risen of the New York Times, the arrest of journalists covering protests in Ferguson, Missouri and the continued US “war on information” targeting whistleblowers and groups like Wikileaks as some of the reasons America’s ranking remains so low.

Some of America’s allies rank at or near the bottom of this year’s index: Turkmenistan (178th), Djibouti (170th), Equatorial Guinea (167th), Uzbekistan (166th), Saudi Arabia (164th), Bahrain (163rd), Azerbaijan (162nd), and Rwanda (161st) all finished in the lowest tier.

The US has long supported brutal dictatorships in service of its strategic and economic objectives; according to Freedom House, Washington backed dictators in four of the world’s seven ‘least free’ nations in 2013 — Saudi Arabia, Equatorial Guinea, Uzbekistan and Turkmenistan.

The United States is not alone among Western democracies in experiencing a decline in press freedom in 2014. Italy falls 24 places to 73rd, tiny Andorra plummets 27 spots to 32nd and even Iceland, a model of social democracy, drops 13 spots to 21st due to worsening relations between government and media.

On a positive note, there were some remarkable improvements in 2014 as well. Brazil enters the top 100 (#99) for the first time, due mostly to decreased violence against journalists. The Pacific island nation of Tonga rises 19 places to 44th after its first-ever democratic elections. Mongolia is this year’s most-improved nation for press freedom, rising 34 spots to 54th place.

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