Every year media rights advocate group Reporters Without Borders conducts a survey measuring how free journalists are from governmental interference in countries around the world. The Press Freedom Index is compiled using results from a questionnaire sent to international partner groups. It focuses on direct attacks against journalists — arrests, media blackouts and other types of forceful government intervention — as well as indirect pressure from advocacy groups or legislation.
As one would expect, Middle Eastern nations saw the most significant change, experiencing a dramatic downward shift with very few nations moving upward. The report cites last year’s Arab Spring movement as motivation for the decline, claiming, “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.” With all the revolution happening in that region, it’s clear to see why the at-risk governments were quick to suppress any type of dissenting opinion regardless of the amount of truth contained within."
In what will hopefully be a temporary lapse, the United States tumbled 27 places to the 47th spot on the list. Reporters Without Borders attributes this drop to “the many arrests of journalist(sic) covering Occupy Wall Street protests.” Fortunately, Austin hasn’t experienced any of the crack down on journalists, but it was prevalent across the nation, especially in the early days of the movement. It’s unfortunate to see America, home to the world's most protected democratic principles, and some of the greatest pieces of journalism in history, plummet so deeply on a list honoring the profession.
At a time when threats to censor the Internet — journalism’s future — bounce around Congress, it is more important than ever that our government take every measure to safeguard the century-old craft. A tool long used by the small and voiceless to speak loudly to the world. Instead, an international body has recognized that our nation has done the opposite of that, taking steps toward a less than free press.
A nation that prides itself on free speech — our first amendment seems to be boasted about often — should be embarrassed about falling from the top 20 and landing just shy of number 50. Shame on you America.
The full report, in PDF format, can be read here.