Terrorism & Security
US now ranks 53rd in World Press Freedom Index
Fri Oct 27, 2006 23:09

Terrorism & Security
posted October 27, 2006 at 11:30 a.m.
US now ranks 53rd in World Press Freedom Index
US drops 9 places, partly due to suspicion of journalists who question "war on terrorism."
By Tom Regan | csmonitor.com

The news media advocacy organization Reporters Without Borders released their fifth annual Worldwide Press Freedom Index this week, and it shows that the United States has dropped 9 places since last year, and is now ranked 53rd, alongside Botswana, Croatia and Tonga. The authors of the report say that the steady erosion of press freedom in countries like the US, France and Japan (two other countries that slipped significantly on the index) is "very alarming."

The United States (53rd) has fallen nine places since last year, after being in 17th position in the first year of the Index, in 2002. Relations between the media and the Bush administration sharply deteriorated after the president used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism." The zeal of federal courts which, unlike those in 33 US states, refuse to recognize the media's right not to reveal its sources, even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism.

Freelance journalist and blogger Josh Wolf was imprisoned when he refused to hand over his video archives. Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj, who works for the pan-Arab broadcaster Al-Jazeera, has been held without trial since June 2002 at the US military base at Guantanamo, and Associated Press photographer Bilal Hussein has been held by US authorities in Iraq since April this year.

The Washington Post reported Tuesday that the organization bases the index on responses to 50 questions about press freedom asked of journalists, free press organizations, researchers, human rights activists and others. Jurist reports that the organization received responses from 168 countries, and "compiled based on "the degree of freedom journalists and news organizations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the state to respect and ensure respect for this freedom."

The world's worst violators of press freedoms remains unchanged from last year: North Korea, Eritrea, Turkmenistan, Cuba, Burma, Saudi Arabia, Iran and China. Iraq isn't much better, ranking 153rd out of 168 countries.
Voice of America reports that in the case of the US, officials consider cameraman Sami al-Haj an enemy combatant and said that photographer Bilal Hussein had links to insurgents. Reporters Without Borders notes, however, that neither has been charged with any crime during the time they have been imprisoned, which is five years in the case of al-Haj.

Despite the drop in ranking for the US, Lucy Dalglish of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press said in an interview with, Al- Jazeera.net that it's important to remember that the US is "still a comparatively safe place for journalists to work."

"Despite going down the ranks, I think that the US is one of the best places in the world to work as a journalist, and one of the safest," she said.

Dalglish said that improvements by other countries may account for the US dropping down the Press Freedom Index.

"In the last couple of years, there has been no serious change for the worse in the US. Other countries may have made substantial improvements in their press freedoms and leapt ahead of the US, rather than US press freedom taking a real turn for the worse," she said.

However, Dalglish said that the US administration had made "veiled threats" against some journalists, accusing them of "espionage" in order to encourage them to self-censor material.

Meanwhile the Committee to Protect Journalists is appealing the Pentagon denial of a Freedom of Information Act request to release information about the US bombing of the Baghdad bureau of Al-Jazeera in 2003, where one journalist was killed.

The formal appeal sent on Thursday followed a broadcast on Britain's Channel 4 this week where former Home Secretary (Interior Minister) David Blunkett was asked whether he really wanted to "take out" Al-Jazeera around that time of the March 2003 invasion of Iraq by the United States and Britain. According to the Online Press Gazette, Blunkett in the interview replied:

"It wasn't taking out Al Jazeera as a broadcaster, it was taking out the capacity, just as in the Second World War had we been able to take out Lord Haw Haw. I think people would have been very glad."

When asked whether he feared such an attack would be outside the rules of engagement, Blunkett said: "There wasn't a worry from me because I believed that this was a war, and in a war you wouldn't allow the broadcast to continue taking place."

In a recently published book by Pulitzer Prize-winning reporter Ron Suskind, 'The One Percent Doctrine,' he writes that he beleives the US deliberately bombed the Arab satellite channel's office in Kabul, Afghanistan in order to "send a message" to the station.


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