We're Number 24!


Happy World Press Freedom Day! To celebrate, take a gander at Freedom House's annual rankings [PDF] of press freedom around the globe. The U.S. has slipped a few notches down the chart to #24, tied with the recently totalitarian Latvia and Estonia, the liberty-lovin' Barbados, and some "countries" called Dominica and Canada. Explains the Freedom House press release:

While the United States remained one of the strongest performers in the survey, its numerical score declined due to a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations. Additionally, doubts concerning official influence over media content emerged with the disclosures that several political commentators received grants from federal agencies, and that the Bush administration had significantly increased the practice of distributing government-produced news segments.

"Even in established democracies, press freedom should not be taken for granted," said Freedom House Executive Director Jennifer Windsor. "It must be defended and nurtured."

Our friends in Saudi Arabia, meanwhile, clock in at a desultory 173rd, tied with our non-friends Iran (only 11 countries were judged worse). More on the survey here; link via the Inter Press Service.


NEXT: There's a Bullshitter on the Edge of Town

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  1. In your FACE, Malta!

    USA! USA!

  2. Finland, Finland, Finland,
    the country where I quite want to be. . .

  3. To be fair, the island of Palau was ranked higher than the US, yet I think technically they’re a US territory (or so my almanac says). If they had included Palau as part of the US our average score would have increased and we’d be whipping the asses of those Canadians right now.

  4. Jennifer, that was brilliant!

  5. Your mountains so lofty,
    your treetops so tall,
    and lots of press freedom
    Finland has it all.

    (third line mine, not M. Python’s)

  6. Thoreau-
    Whoops, I made my second post after I saw yours. How tragically unnecessary.

  7. Wait, Iraq was listed as “not free.”

    Didn’t they get the memo? We liberated Iraq!

    Freedom House is nothing but a bunch of goddamn anti-American commie bastards!

  8. “Wait, Iraq was listed as “not free.”

    Didn’t they get the memo? We liberated Iraq!

    Freedom House is nothing but a bunch of goddamn anti-American commie bastards!”

    Eh, not so much.


  9. Apparently property rights aren’t as highly regarded as the freedom to hide information from justice.

  10. Richard-

    I don’t see any problem with keeping rosters of different types of freedom: property rights, free press, etc.

  11. I really don’t either. Just trying to put things a bit closer to perspective. For me, freedom of the press doesn’t mean that one should be able to hide behind the badge of “press” to thwart justice.

    People who argue for such laws do a disservice to the legal system. Our Constitution answers the question “What is more important, the right to publish or the right to hide information relevant to another person’s criminal trial?” by giving DEFENDANT’s the right not to be a witness against himself. Not other witnesses.

    I pose a question for the rest to ponder: What is more dangerous, a group of people who have qualified immunity running around selling a product (news is a product as much as Pepsi), or a government with a judicial system that allows only the accused to avoid testifying in a trial and treats everyone else equally regardless of their job status?

    This survey/ranking report is utter pigswill. It isn’t news. It is a thinly veiled propaganda device intended to promote and perpetuate the myth that the “press” is a public service and not a well-heeled multi-billion dollar industry.

  12. I don’t see the “doubts concerning official influence over media content” angle. This isn’t a restriction on the freedom of the press to print whatever they want, even obvious authoritarian bilge.

    I doubt that the total amount of “official” content in the media has increased by any detectable amount under Bush, considering the way the Exempt Media has acted as the herald of the cult of the state for lo, these many generations now. These are the same people who have been pumping out bogus war on drugs press releases for decades now, don’t forget.

    And, frankly, I’m not bowled over by the threat of treating reporters like ordinary citizens faced with grand jury subpoenas.

    Finally, a quick scan doesn’t show any recognition of the near-total freedom enjoyed by the pajamahadeen in the new media.

    Color me unimpressed.

  13. I wonder if they only consider actual cases of conflict between the press and the law or if they contemplate the silencing effect of policies that have not caused major conflicts. For example, the United States is tied with Germany, a country that bans Mein Kempf and Nazi imagery to prohibit extremist neo-Nazi groups from inciting violence. What effect might this have on journalistic creativity if someone wants to do a frank historical article that would involve considerable quotations and imagery from the worst of German history? Also, how many points does the United Kingdom (which is slightly behind the U.S.) lose for its laws that make it relatively easy to sue for defamation?

  14. Like I said earlier…it’s just a propaganda piece with no merit.

  15. “…its numerical score declined due to a number of legal cases in which prosecutors sought to compel journalists to reveal sources or turn over notes or other material they had gathered in the course of investigations.”

    Now, the White House lining the pockets of the press is obnviously not such a hot idea if we’re going to claim to have a free press, but what’s wrong with forcing journalists to be accountable for the source of the material that they’re claiming is credible?

  16. I believe that Palau became independent in the mid-90s. One of my law professors went there to teach them how to write a constitution or form a supreme court or something like that. Must’ve done a great job, huh?

    I’m curious how we can be equated with Canada and placed below Germany in this regard, since they both have content restrictions on the books that we don’t have. I also seem to recall that most of the Commonwealth countries lack anything like
    N.Y. Times v. Sullivan
    protections for the press, though I could be wrong about that.

    Hmm, maybe these folks at Freedom House believe we are/were shooting reporters in Iraq. . . .

  17. Sometime, just sometimes, I get the feeling that the US gets the shaft on these sorts of lists so we can be scolded in public.

  18. I mean, really, folks, in Canada they have legal restrictions on what the press can report regarding an ongoing investigation into corruption by the ruling party. Those legal restrictions were effective to muzzle the Canadian media, and finally fell apart under attack by US bloggers.

    There is absolutely nothing in the US that imposes a comparable burden on the press.

    Like Richard said . . . .

  19. What’s funny is that Freedom House has been criticized for *years* for having an explicitly pro-American bias, and for (if memory serves) being rumored to accept money from the CIA….

  20. I don’t know about the CIA, but they definitely get money from the NED. They have been actively involved in advancing Washington’s interests abroad both during and after the Cold War, and they don’t have a history of Amnesty International-style dissent. Criticize their methodology if you want, but accusing them of churning out anti-American propaganda is just laughable.

  21. Since most of the good points have been made, I’d just like to say that Freedom House is lame (and freedom of speech is for everyone–journalists should have no more right to it than anyone else).

  22. Matt & Jesse,

    Maybe someone in Washington forgot to send them their check…

  23. You’d think there’d be some mention of the suppression of paid political messages in the name of campaign finance reform, wouldn’t you? That’s got to be the biggest one right there…

  24. Don’t knock Barbados Matt! That’s my ancestral homeland. Besides, 5 years after helping to organize the now-infamous Battle of Seattle, we aren’t such a bad place after all. 🙂

  25. Freedom of depress? Most news sources get held hostage by silly stories, speculation, and anything else that gets good ratings. It seems as though the nightly news is just another episode of some odd reality show. I feel I’m the only one who doesn’t give a rat’s ass about Mickey Jackson or brides with cold feet. As they say, good news is no news.

    Free press, anyone care to ask Noam Chompsky?
    No, me either.

  26. It isn’t that they churn out anti american propaganda, it is that they have a message to deliver and the best way to do that is to shock us all with how low we are on the list.

  27. To me it looks like an explicit lefty bias. Otherwise I don’t see how the Bush administration’s creation of video press releases that look like news stories serves to limit anyone’s press freedom. If government doing its own news production lowers a country’s press freedom, why no mention of PBS or NPR, or their equivalents in other countries?

    Also, as someone else pointed out, there’s no mention of vastly increased news sources through the web.

    Also, Iraq gets a lowered rating due to increased violence, but there’s no lowering for, say, the Netherlands, where prominent critics of Islam have been assassinated or forced to go into hiding.

    I don’t know what their biases used to be, but right now Freedom House seem anti-American through and through.

  28. I think it’s interesting to see two views of First Amendment rights emerge. The more conservative commenters seem to limit their support to a general freedom interest – the good of a free press is that the government doesn’t screw with people. The more liberal commenters seem to recognize this good, but also another. To wit, the benefits that society achieves from having a free press.

    The hijacking of the independent press for government propaganda, or putting the squeeze on whisteblowers by requiring their identities to be public, doesn’t interfere with the former good, but certainly the latter. As I recall, the founders spilled a significant amount of ink discussing the importance of a free and questioning press to the function of a democratic republic, and not just the right of an individual to speak and publish.

  29. The obvious point is that it’s easy for Scandinavian countries to come out on top in these freedom-of-the-press surveys: there is no point in having censorship in countries where there is nothing happening, and therefore *no news to report*…

  30. “several political commentators received grants from federal agencies”

    If that’s repression I could use some more myself.

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