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US plunges in World Press Freedom index after NSA leaks, attacks on whistleblowers

Published time: February 12, 2014 13:55
Edited time: February 14, 2014 11:55
Reuters / Gary Cameron

Reuters / Gary Cameron

Press freedom in the United States has suffered “one of the most significant declines” in the last year after sacrificing information to national security, with the NSA surveillance scandal topping the list of wrongdoing.

That’s according to The World Press Freedom Index for 2014 from Reporters Without Borders (RWB), which put the US in 46th place out of 180 countries, a 13-place drop from last year.

This time American misdemeanors were in the report’s chapter on “Information sacrificed to national security and surveillance,” which says: “Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law” too often sacrifice the freedom of speech to “an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs.”

“Investigative journalism often suffers as a result” of a “disturbing retreat from democratic practices,” the RWB report said.


World’s best countries for press freedom*

1. Finland
2. Netherlands
3. Norway
4. Luxembourg
5. Andorra
6. Liechtenstein
7. Denmark
8. Iceland
9. New Zealand
10. Sweden

World’s worst countries for press freedom*

170. Cuba
171. Lao People’s Democratic Republic
172. Sudan
173. Islamic republic of Iran
174. Vietnam
175. China
176. Somalia
177. Syrian Arab Republic
178. Turkmenistan
179. Democratic People’s Republic of Korea
180. Eritrea

*Source: Reporters Without Borders, The World Press Freedom Index for 2014.

The RWB recalled all recent major assaults on the freedom of press in the US, be it the conviction of US Army whistleblower Bradley (Chelsea) Manning or the manhunt for former NSA contractor Edward Snowden, whose revelations about pervasive worldwide surveillance conducted by the US intelligence’s made WikiLeaks publications of Manning’s files pale by comparison.

Another notorious attack on journalism mentioned by the RWB was the seizure of “thousands and thousands” of Associated Press phone calls by the US Justice Department, which was searching for a leak in the CIA.

The RWB recalled scandalous cases of freelance digital journalist Barrett Brown, who now faces 105 years in prison for sharing a link to stolen classified data, and New York Times reporter James Risen, who also faces a term in jail if he does not testify against CIA whistleblower Jeffrey Sterling.

Throughout 2013 a number of US journalists have been issued with subpoenas and pressured to reveal off-the-record sources they relied upon, which prompted some activists to call for a media shield law to protect journalists’ sources and thousands of internet-involved organizations to organize protest against massive electronic surveillance.

In 2012, the US fell even lower, to 47th position, after tumbling 27 positions – a result of a series of arrests of high-profile journalists during the Occupy Wall Street protests.

Freedom of speech in Britain, a close US ally, by comparison, was viewed as less restricted, with the country in 33rd place. The UK fell back three places after the exposure of deep collaboration between American and British security and intelligence services in suppressing the freedom of the press.

While UK’s Government Communications Headquarters (GCHQ) agency actually taught American NSA how to conduct online espionage, Britain has been evaluated quite mildly, only suffering a minor decline in the index. The only incident mentioned by the RWB was the detention of David Miranda, the partner of ex-Guardian journalist Glenn Greenwald who revealed NSA spy programs.

screenshot from from http://rsf.org

RWB did not considered the most recent revelation about British intelligence, found practicing not just spying but actively using cyber-attacks to deal with such information disseminators as Anonymous and LulzSec hacktivists, or that global media watchdogs are planning to investigate press freedom in the UK.

Also, Glenn Greenwald’s revelations about UK and US mainstream media being “devoted servants” of the intelligence agencies seemingly have not affected the rating.

Meanwhile WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange is still trapped in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, with the freedom of information campaigner still being pursued by UK and Swedish justice.

In the 2014 RWB index, Russia was placed 148th, the same as in last year's ranking. Though praising "the resistance of civil society" in the country, the report still accuses Moscow of "using UN bodies and regional alliances such as the Shanghai Cooperation Organization in its efforts to undermine international standards on freedom of information."