Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it. Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs, marking a disturbing retreat from democratic practices. Investigative journalism often suffers as a result.For perspective, in the seven years it was rated, the Bush administration only twice rated worse. For perspective on this year, join me below the fold.
This has been the case in the United States (46th), which fell 13 places, one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks. The trial and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of NSA analyst Edward Snowden were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that would clearly be in the public interest.
US journalists were stunned by the Department of Justice’s seizure of Associated Press phone records without warning in order to identify the source of a CIA leak. It served as a reminder of the urgent need for a “shield law” to protect the confidentiality of journalists’ sources at the federal level. The revival of the legislative process is little consolation for James Risen of The New York Times, who is subject to a court order to testify against a former CIA employee accused of leaking classified information. And less still for Barrett Brown, a young freelance journalist facing 105 years in prison in connection with the posting of information that hackers obtained from Statfor, a private intelligence company with close ties to the federal government.
Compared to other nations, the United States ranks just below Romania, and just above Haiti. In order, the top ten for protecting press freedom are:
Finland, Netherlands, Norway, Luxembourg, Andorra, Liechtenstein, Denmark, Iceland, New Zealand, Sweden
From the bottom up, starting at 180, the worst are:
Eritrea, North Korea, Turkmenistan, Syria, Somalia, China, Vietnam, Iran, Sudan, LaosAmong other nations of note:
Saudi Arabia 164, Iraq 153, Mexico 152, Russia 148, India 140, Palestine 138, Afghanistan 128, Nigeria 112, Brazil 111, Israel 96, Kenya 90, Japan 59, South Africa 42, Canada 18Much of Eastern and Central Europe rates better than the United States, and from Western Europe, only Italy, at 49, rates worse. The United States rates only ninth best in the Western Hemisphere.