Today is World Press Freedom Day as designated by the United Nations. A major global conference was held at the UN in New York to commemorate the 30th anniversary of this declaration, and a separate event was organized by The Washington Post in Washington DC.
At the DC gathering Reporters Without Borders released their new 2023 World Press Freedom Index. You won’t hear this reported by any US news media, but the United States ranking on that index has been steadily declining since 2002 when the nation was ranked 17th in the world in terms of press freedom.
I seem to be the only US journalist reporting on this issue…
The US is now ranked 45th on the World Press Freedom Index, dropping three places since it was ranked 42nd in 2022.
Reporters Without Borders cites the following reasons for the decline in ranking this year:
“...major structural barriers to press freedom persist in this country once considered a model for freedom of expression.”
“...many of the underlying, chronic issues impacting journalists remain unaddressed by the authorities – including the disappearance of local news, the polarisation of the media or the weakening of journalism and democracy caused by digital platforms and social networks.”
The keynote speaker at the Washington Post event was US Secretary of State Antony Blinken. His comments were interrupted when two activists took the stage. Codepink co-founder Media Benjamin interrupted Blinken’s comments with a sign that read:
“Free Julian Assange”.
Although the mics were cut during the livestream, it was obvious to the audience what the protest was about. The US government has been criticized by press freedom advocates for its attempts to prosecute Assange, after he acted as a whistle blower and leaked information in the public interest. The mistreatment of Julian Assange has been cited by Reporters Without Borders as a threat to freedom of the press in the United States.
Secretary Blinken seemed visibly shaken by the incident.
I will assume that it was Secret Service agents who aggressively removed the activists from the room. The harsh physical treatment of Benjamin caused the Secretary of State to stand up and plead, “take it easy guys!” as she was physically removed from the scene.
Blinken did not address the issue of Julian Assange or the decline of press freedom in the United States during the Washington Post event, but the protesters accomplished their task by inspiring journalists like me to report on the incident.
Bottom line, if the United States wants to be taken seriously as a protector and promoter of democracy, holding democracy summits and lecturing other nations on their lack of press freedom, our nation must first acknowledge and work to address its own prosecution of whistle blowers as well as other threats to freedom of the press and freedom of expression.