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US now ranks 53rd in World Press Freedom Index

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  • Greg Cannon
    http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1027/dailyUpdate.html October 27, 2006 at 11:30 a.m. US now ranks 53rd in World Press Freedom Index US drops 9 places, partly due
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 29, 2006
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      http://www.csmonitor.com/2006/1027/dailyUpdate.html

      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
      terrorism.

      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
      168 countries.
      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
      Index.

      "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
      interview replied:

      "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.
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