The freedom of journalists to independently report information around the world has seen a double-digit decline since 2013, according a report by Reporters Without Borders released Wednesday.
The United States is ranked 41st in the world, largely because of the Obama administration’s aggressive whistleblower prosecutions. Meanwhile, two countries the Obama administration made major diplomatic breakthroughs with in 2015 — Iran and Cuba — continue to suppress media.
The Word Press Freedom Index shows a decline of 13.6 percent since 2013 in the ranking of 180 countries.
The bottom five countries, those with the tightest clamp on media and the messages allowed to go to the public, are communist China, ranked No. 176, followed by war-torn Syria, Turkmenistan, communist North Korea and Eritrea at No 180. The freest are Finland in the No. 1 spot, followed by the Netherlands, Norway, Denmark and New Zealand.
“It is unfortunately clear that many of the world’s leaders are developing a form of paranoia about legitimate journalism,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
The United States, which is supposed to be a bastion of the free press, managed to move up eight spots from its 2015 ranking but still is not strong.
“U.S. media freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 Constitution, has encountered a major obstacle — the government’s war on whistleblowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter-terrorism,” the report says. “Furthermore, U.S. journalists are still not protected by a federal ‘shield law’ guaranteeing their right not to reveal their sources and other confidential work-related information.”
The United States led a multilateral nuclear agreement with Iran in 2015, but Iran remains isolate, ranking 169th, a slight improvement of four spots from 2015 when it was in the bottom 10. But the country has “continued to imprison journalists and harass the media.” Washington Post reporter Jason Rezaian, imprisoned in the country, was released only last year.
Cuba, which the Obama administration normalized relations with, relaxing commerce restrictions and opening an embassy, actually fell to the bottom 10, coming in 171st because, the report says, “Raúl Castro’s regime maintained its almost total control over news and information.”
The report was released the same day Obama kicked off a trip to Saudi Arabia, which has remained stagnant coming in at No. 165.
“There are really no free media in Saudi Arabia and all journalists censor themselves. The Internet is the only space where freely reported information and views can circulate, albeit at great risk to the Internet’s citizen-journalists,” the report says. “Like professional journalists, they are watched closely and critical comments are liable to lead to arrest and trial. Blasphemy, insulting religion, inciting chaos and defaming the king and the state are the most frequent charges brought against those who show a desire to report the truth.
“Journalism worthy of the name must be defended against the increase in propaganda and media content that is made to order or sponsored by vested interests," Deloire said. "Guaranteeing the public’s right to independent and reliable news and information is essential if humankind’s problems, both local and global, are to be solved."
To view the full report, click here.