Did You Know?

Is press freedom eroding in the U.S.?

What makes a country free?

The open and unfettered flow of information that keeps a country’s people informed is one measure — and for this, journalists are essential. But by that token, the U.S. is less free this year than it was a year ago, falling three spots to 48th in a ranking of 180 countries and regions by Reporters Without Borders (also known as Reporters Sans Frontières, or RSF).

In its 2019 World Press Freedom Index, RSF tracks how freely reporters are allowed to do their jobs, considering factors such as the number of abuses and acts of violence against journalists, the degree of self-censorship felt by journalists, and the independence of media outlets.

Threats against reporters are mounting worldwide. In the latest RSF report, only 24% of countries were rated as having a “good” or “satisfactory” climate for the practice of journalism. The international press freedom organization now classifies the United States as “problematic” for journalists, citing an increasingly hostile media environment: “Never before have U.S. journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection.”

The lower U.S. ranking also takes into account President Donald Trump’s ongoing degradation of journalists, including his repeated declaration that the press is the “enemy of the people.” But that hostility didn’t just arise in the last two years, Sabine Dolan, RSF’s interim executive director, said on NPR: “Even before President Trump, the Obama administration was aggressively using the 1917 Espionage Act to prosecute more whistleblowers than any previous administration combined.”

The U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, which documents press freedom violations at the national, state and local levels, tracks journalist arrests, assaults, border stops, camera and equipment seizures, surveillance orders, subpoenas and more. This initiative brings together more than two dozen press freedom groups and journalism organizations to monitor assaults on press freedoms, and the statistics it collects are used in RSF’s annual report. As it states: “When journalists are obstructed, so is the public’s right to be informed and hold power to account.”

Which means less freedom for all.