Under Obama, US tumbles to 46th place for freedom of the press

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The administration President Obama has repeatedly described as “the most transparent in history” plummeted from 33rd to 46th in the world for freedom of information over the past 12 months.

Reporters Without Borders, which describes itself as “a non-profit organization which defends the freedom to be informed and to inform others throughout the world,” published its 2014 World Press Freedom Index on Monday. Although the top and bottom rankings remained unchanged from last year, the United States took a huge tumble.

After reporting that “countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example,” the report said:

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.

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The Obama administration’s handling of whistleblowers wasn’t the only problem that bothered Reporters Without Borders. Of greater concern was the Department of Justice’s decision to target the media. The report said:

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.

So who scored best and worst? Reporters Without Borders said:

Finland tops the index for the fourth year running, closely followed by Netherlands and Norway, like last year. At the other end of the index, the last three positions are again held by Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, three countries where freedom of information is non-existent.

In the following commentary, CNN took a look at the Obama administration’s record on transparency and found it lacking. That was in July 2012. In light of the new report, a reappraisal may be in order.


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