October 27, 2006 at 11:30 a.m.
US now ranks 53rd in World Press Freedom Index
US drops 9 places, partly due to suspicion of
journalists who question "war on terrorism."
By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com
The news media advocacy organization Reporters Without
Borders released their fifth annual Worldwide Press
Freedom Index this week, and it shows that the United
States has dropped 9 places since last year, and is
now ranked 53rd, alongside Botswana, Croatia and
Tonga. The authors of the report say that the steady
erosion of press freedom in countries like the US,
France and Japan (two other countries that slipped
significantly on the index) is "very alarming."
The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places
since last year, after being in 17th position in the
first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between
the media and the Bush administration sharply
deteriorated after the president used the pretext of
"national security" to regard as suspicious any
journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism." The
zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US
states, refuse to recognize the media's right not to
reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose
investigations have no connection at all with
Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was
imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video
archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works
for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held
without trial since June 2002 at the US military base
at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal
Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since
April this year.
The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the
organization bases the index on responses to 50
questions about press freedom asked of journalists,
free press organizations, researchers, human rights
activists and others. Jurist reports that the
organization received responses from 168 countries,
and "compiled based on "the degree of freedom
journalists and news organizations enjoy in each
country, and the efforts made by the state to respect
and ensure respect for this freedom."
The world's worst violators of press freedoms remains
unchanged from last year: North Korea, Eritrea,
Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran and
China. Iraq isn't much better, ranking 153rd out of
Voice of America reports that in the case of the US,
officials consider cameraman Sami al-Haj an enemy
combatant and said that photographer Bilal Hussein had
links to insurgents. Reporters Without Borders notes,
however, that neither has been charged with any crime
during the time they have been imprisoned, which is
five years in the case of al-Haj.
Despite the drop in ranking for the US, Lucy Dalglish
of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press
said in an interview with, Al- Jazeera.net that it's
important to remember that the US is "still a
comparatively safe place for journalists to work."
"Despite going down the ranks, I think that the US
is one of the best places in the world to work as a
journalist, and one of the safest," she said.
Dalglish said that improvements by other countries
may account for the US dropping down the Press Freedom
"In the last couple of years, there has been no
serious change for the worse in the US. Other
countries may have made substantial improvements in
their press freedoms and leapt ahead of the US, rather
than US press freedom taking a real turn for the
worse," she said.
However, Dalglish said that the US administration
had made "veiled threats" against some journalists,
accusing them of "espionage" in order to encourage
them to self-censor material.
Meanwhile the Committee to Protect Journalists is
appealing the Pentagon denial of a Freedom of
Information Act request to release information about
the US bombing of the Baghdad bureau of Al-Jazeera in
2003, where one journalist was killed.
The formal appeal sent on Thursday followed a
broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 this week where
former Home Secretary (Interior Minister) David
Blunkett was asked whether he really wanted to "take
out" Al-Jazeera around that time of the March 2003
invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain.
According to the Online Press Gazette, Blunkett in the
"It wasn't taking out Al Jazeera as a broadcaster,
it was taking out the capacity, just as in the Second
World War had we been able to take out Lord Haw Haw. I
think people would have been very glad."
When asked whether he feared such an attack would
be outside the rules of engagement, Blunkett said:
"There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that
this was a war, and in a war you wouldn't allow the
broadcast to continue taking place."
In a recently published book by Pulitzer Prize-winning
reporter Ron Suskind, 'The One Percent Doctrine,' he
writes that he beleives the US deliberately bombed the
Arab satellite channel's office in Kabul, Afghanistan
in order to "send a message" to the station.