I Hope I Can Still Say This: Our Media Freedoms Are Shrinking



Pop Quiz: Which of these countries has a more liberated press than the United States?

A. Andorra

B. Estonia

C. Ghana

D. Latvia

If you answered (A), you’re correct. You’re also correct if you answered (B), (C), or (D), or if you wrote in Poland, Namibia, Slovenia, or any of the 45 countries currently ahead of the U.S. on the 2014 World Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders.

The good news is we’re crawling right up the butt of Romania to take over the coveted #45 spot on the chart. And we’re still two spots ahead of Niger, and also ahead of Burkina Faso and Comoros, which sounds like an act that performed at last month’s Grammy Awards, but apparently are countries holding the 52nd and 53rd slots on the list, respectively.

USA: Still With A Freer Press Than Comoros. How’s that for a slogan to instill national pride?

I suspect most Americans would be shocked by this. It will especially hit home on Opening Day of the baseball season when Beyonce sings the updated National Anthem lyrics “…And the la-a-and of the 46th freest press, and the home of the brave.”

Actually, it probably won’t make much of an impact on most Americans, for the simple reason that – irony alert – most media outlets won’t report the story! Also, we still collectively tend to believe in American Exceptionalism, persistently declaring things like “We have the best health care system in the world,” even though that’s demonstrably not even close to true by every measureable factor.

We do, however, rank high on kidding ourselves!

The list is not totally fair. The top three spots are occupied by Finland, Netherlands, and Norway, but it’s easy to have a free press when your country doesn’t have any news!

Our position on this list fell 13 places from the previous year. The decline was primarily linked to the government’s pursuit of whistle-blowers and document leakers. The report cited the trial and conviction of Private Chelsea (formerly Bradley) Manning, the pursuit of Edward Snowden, the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records in order to find the source of a CIA leak, a court order ordering New York Times reporter James Risen to testify against an ex-CIA employee who is accused of leaking state secrets, and President Obama’s aggressive stance against whistle-blowers.

It’s counter-intuitive that our press freedoms are shrinking – years after the Patriot Act was instituted when we have wound down our warring activities in Iraq and Afghanistan with a Democratic president in the White House – but according to Reporters Without Borders, ‘tis so.

It’s not just governments that inhibit the press, though. “Non-state” groups like Al-Qaeda and other organizations involved in jihads and militias generally don’t hold “freedom of the press” in high regard. Nor does organized crime, which according to this report, gets rather irked when reporters in countries like Guatemala, Brazil, Pakista, and China investigate their doings. In fact, it employs a unique and patented educational campaign to persuade journalists to switch their business motto from “If you see something, say something,” to “See no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil.”

FYI, there were 180 countries listed, with North Korea and Eritrea bottoming out the list. Pretty good chance that dubious honor wasn’t printed in either North Korea or Eritrea. So far, at least, it’s not a crime here to report the deteriorating state of our press freedoms.

About Stan Sinberg

Stan is an award-winning newspaper columnist, radio commentator, and features writer whose humor has appeared in everything from the NY Times to WSJ and MAD Magazine. Stan is a native New Yorker living on the west coast. His website is www.stansinberg.com and you can email him at stan@stansinberg.com or follow him on Twitter @ssinberg1
Posted in: Civil Rights, Constitutional, Law, Society