The United States, under the Obama Administration, has fallen to 46th place on Reporters Without Borders’ World Press Freedom Index for 2014 – behind such transparency-friendly countries as Latvia, Slovenia and Romania. The U.S. came in 32nd last year.
Reporters Without Borders cites three developments in 2013 as reasons for the precipitous drop: the Administration’s handling of Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden, the NSA activities Snowden’s leaks revealed and the government’s aggression toward media outlets and reporters covering topics that portray it unfavorably.
From the synopsis:
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.
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.
Just before the Snowden debacle began to unfold last year, Obama reiterated his first-term campaign boast that he would bring unprecedented transparency to the White House. “This is the most transparent administration in history,” he said during a Google Hangout session. “I can document that this is the case. Every visitor that comes into the White House is now part of the public record. Every law we pass and every rule we implement we put online for everyone to see.”
He went on to add that stalling the efforts of investigative journalists to discover his Administration’s timeline handling of the Sept. 11, 2012 Benghazi attack “is not a good example.”