October 26th, 2008
The United States is ranked 36th in the world in terms of press freedom, up from 48th last year, according to a report released Wednesday by Reporters Sans Frontieres.
The US is tied with Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, South Africa, Spain, and Taiwan in the 36th spot. Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway are tied for first. Iran, China, Vietnam, Cuba, and North Korea are all featured among the ten lowest-ranked countries.
According to the survey, the index “measures the state of press freedom in the world. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.”
The ranking examines “every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). And it includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.”
Self-censorship, financial pressure, the legal framework of the media, and the level of independence of the public media are also taken into account.
The report explains the United States’ rise from 48th to 36th:
The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions.