BORDERS WITHOUT REPORTERS – Reporters Without Borders has just released its 2018 World Freedom Index, and the United States has slipped another few spots, down to number 45 in the world, behind pretty much everyone, including Romania, Bukina Faso and South Africa. The organisation explains:
In 2017, the 45th President of the United States helped sink the country to 45th place by labeling the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempts to block White House access to multiple media outlets, routine use of the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting, and calling for media outlets’ broadcasting licenses to be revoked. President Trump has routinely singled out news outlets and individual journalists for their coverage of him, and retweeted several violent memes targeting CNN.
The violent anti-press rhetoric from the White House has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job.
Press freedom violations in the country of the First Amendment in fact have become so frequent of late that RSF joined a coalition of more than two dozen press freedom organizations to launch the US Press Freedom Tracker in August, which documented 34 arrests of journalists in 2017, the majority while covering protests (find out more on the tracker).
I can’t speak about arrests at protests, but the physical assault cited is one incident in a country of 320 million people, so maybe it’s a tad misleading to focus on it as an example and harbinger of doom and gloom for our fearless truth-seekers? As for Donald Trump, yes, he doesn’t like much of the mainstream media, because he thinks they are biased against him, which they are. For that, he calls them mean names. That’s pretty much it. Nothing he has said or done has ever and in any way actually restricted the press freedom in the United States.
This isn’t a Freedom index; it’s a respect index, and that the media has indeed been losing, mostly due to its own behaviour. Journalists, like any other profession, shouldn’t be immune to criticism. Respect is something you earn by the quality of your work, not an inviolable entitlement. You can be a truth teller or you can be a political operative with a byline (to borrow from Glenn Reynolds) but you can’t be both. That organisations like Reporters Without Borders confuse freedom with lack of accountability and absence of criticism shows just how out of touch the whole profession has become.