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Press Freedom Witnessing a Drastic Decline in the US
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Press Freedom Witnessing a Drastic Decline in the US

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January 17, 2018. A college student participates in a protest to defend press freedom in Manila/AFP

The growing atmosphere of animosity and hostility towards the media in the United States throughout the past year cost Americans two places in the 2018 World Press Freedom Index. The annual report compiled by Reporters Without Borders measured the level of media freedom based on a host of factors and ranked America 45th out of 180 countries analyzed.

“In the report, there is very little to celebrate,” writes The Washington Post’s Jason Rezaian. “The survey paints yet another depressing portrait of the gradual erosion of one of free societies’ most treasured principle.” The Columbia Journalism Review even considered that a growing “climate of hatred” permeated the report.

The risks of American journalists during their professional careers are rising and encounter verbal – President Donald Trump calling the media an “enemy of the people” – and physical – targeted attacks on journalists working at the Capital Gazette – violence.

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“I think we’re one of the most accessible administrations that we’ve seen in decades,” Press Secretary Sarah Sanders said at a press briefing in April after being asked about the report’s linkage of President Trump’s media bashing to a deteriorating climate around the globe.

Whilst it would be unfair to blame the Trump administration for every crackdown against the press or incident of intimidation or violence (there are numerous factors at play) the constant attacks from the White House — on outlets, individual journalists, and the institution of the free press as a whole — do have an impact.

“When you put the hostile rhetoric on top of that that is coming out from both the president of the United States, as well as other officials… then it becomes the situation we have now where [journalists] are really being squeezed from all sides,” Daphne Pellegrino, North America advocacy officer for Reporters Without Borders, said. “What we’re seeing with President Trump is unprecedented. If we’re talking about his tweets, for instance, and the anti-press rhetoric that he’s using, there is a clear connection and a trickle-down effect to everyday citizens.”

“For the last four presidents that I have covered, there’s a thread. There’s always retaliation, but never on this scale,” says April Ryan, a recognizable figure in the daily White House briefings, who is writing a book — “April Ryan Under Fire: On the Frontlines” — on reporting in the Trump era. “If you write on something or report on something they don’t like, of course they are going to give you a call or call your bosses or come to you literally and talk to you and say, ‘It wasn’t that way. You have gotten it wrong.’ This administration, you will get a [Fake News Award], or they will call you out. They will try to disparage your name. It has gone into personal attacks.” “I have law enforcement on speed dial,” she adds.

A growing misunderstanding of what actually constitutes as journalism, such as punditry and opinionated posts from those with large social media followings, has recently contributed to increased anger towards the media. Today, 43% of Americans have a negative view of the news media, according to the Knight Foundation.

Meanwhile, on September 12, the Reporters Without Borders and 21 partner organizations launched #DefendPressFreedom campaign ahead of midterm elections.

“By doing this, RSF hopes to bring to light the critically important role that journalists play in the US, as well as the dire need to preserve press freedom in the midst of its concerningly steady decline. It is vital to remember the crucial role journalists play in empowering the community to make more informed decisions and to hold those in power accountable. This is why it’s time to remind those running for office of the importance of an independent and free media. It’s time to #DefendPressFreedom.”

Author: USA Really