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United States Lost Press Freedom In 2011


CREDIT: Reporters Without Borders

Journalists in the United States had less leeway in their field last year than at any time since 2007, according to a recent report. The United States fell 27 places to a rank of 47th in a worldwide index of nations according to press freedom prepared by Reporters Without Borders. 

Researchers attributed the decline both in the United States and internationally to protest movements around the world that prompted retaliation from law enforcement and government officials. Domestically, Occupy Wall Street and related movements created an uncertain environment in which many journalists were rounded up along with demonstrators during chaotic confrontations with police.

“In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 [journalists] were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation,” reads the report.

Complicating matters, the rise of citizen journalism has also blurred the lines between reporters and activists, with many individuals serving a documentary role while taking an active part in demonstrations. But the year did see its share of hard-hitting coverage, including Michael Hasting's The Operators, a critical and controversial account of the generals at the helm of the United States' war in Afghanistan.

Researchers have not been impressed by the performance of the current administration.

“After a serious decline in civil liberties during the eight-year Bush administration, Barack Obama’s election as president raised many hopes that were quickly dashed,” reads an info sheet for the United States.

Elsewhere, brutal crackdowns on the press resulted from unrest and revolutions associated with the Arab Spring movement, which unseated dictators in Egypt, Tunisia and Libya in 2011. And violence associated with the drug trade in Mexico continued to spill over onto the media, with five members of the press murdered and more “netizens” targeted for speaking out. 

“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011,” reads a statement accompanying the report. “Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom.”

Researchers also noted incidents in Europe that caused nations including Belarus and Turkey to "fall far behind" others on the continent. And worldwide, the number of journalists and student reporters spiked last year as well, according to a separate report.

Reporters Without Borders is a French non-profit research institute and advocacy group that promotes freedom of the press and basic human rights for journalists. They have consultant status to the United Nations.

Jon Christian is a reporter with Campus Progress. Follow him on Twitter @Jon_Christian.

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