Survey: US Freedom of Press Took Big Hits in 2013

Tuesday, 11 Feb 2014 09:42 PM

By Cathy Burke

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The Obama administration's handling of spy secrets leaker Edward Snowden, its seizure of Associated Press phone records, and the investigation of National Security Agency leaks helped trigger a precipitous plunge in America's press freedom and government openness rating, a global survey released Tuesday showed.

The Reporters Without Borders' 2014 World Press Freedom Index found the United States fell 13 places, to No. 46, "one of the most significant declines, amid increased efforts to track down whistle-blowers and the sources of leaks," the organization said.

Its placing is below countries including Cape Verde, El Salvador and Papua New Guinea — and one spot ahead of Haiti on the list of 180 countries.

"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."

The index looks at countries in categories including official abuse, media independence and infrastructure to see how free journalists are to report.

"Journalists are being caught up in what is, I think, fairly characterized as a rapidly growing surveillance apparatus, and this is happening all over the world," Geoffrey King, Committee to Protect Journalist Internet advocacy coordinator, told the Washington Times.

Reporters Without Borders' U.S. Director Delphine Halgand told the Times that three events stood out in determining the climate for reporting in the United States last year: ex-NSA contractor Snowden's revelations from a cache of documents he took;
the trial of Manning for passing along classified documents to WikiLeaks, and the Department of Justice's probe of the AP and others suspected of receiving leaked data.

"I hope this revelation will play a wake-up-call role," she said.

The index’s barometer of violations of freedom of information rose 1.8 percent compared with 2012, the Times reported, noting Syria ranked among the worst nations for championing freedom of the press.

Between March 2011 and December 2013, 130 professional and citizen journalists were killed in Syria with connections to distributing news and information.

"Syria has moved into the worst of the worst," Karin Karlekar, Freedom of the Press project director, told the Times.

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