Reporters Without Borders released its 10th annual Press Freedom Index, which found that while 2011 may have been Time Magazine’s “Year of the Protester,” it was also the year of government crackdowns on journalists. The opening of the report reads: “Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom.”
Rounding out the bottom of the list are countries like North Korea, Iran, Syria and China – all types of dictatorships with very tightly controlled state media. While Tunisia, the country which arguably sparked the Arab Spring rose 30 places in the RWB index, Egypt plummeted nearly 40 due to the military maintaining the dictatorial practices of former President Mubarak.
The United States, land of the supposedly freeist press on Earth, dropped 27 places on the index to 47. Reporters Without Boarders attributes the giant drop in press freedom in the U.S. To the arrest of journalists made at Occupy protests. In just two short months, the index shows that at least 25 (that number is most likely much higher) journalists in the United States were subject to arrest and beatings by police who “were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behavior, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation.”
Unfortunately, as Occupy demonstrations and other social movements will continue to grow across the United States and the globe, freedom of the press here in the U.S. And abroad will continue to diminish. Gothamist (full disclosure: I write for its Chicago outlet, Chicagoist) reported in December on its Kafkaesque journey to get press credentials from the New York Police Department, who has not been kind to journalists reporting on Occupy demonstrations. Various cities have engaged in actions to keep journalists far away from actions happening on the ground, particularly when arrests of demonstrators begin. Even just last night at a mass arrest of Occupy Oakland, at least one journalist from Mother Jones was arrested.
Fortunately, such incursions on a free and open press haven’t gone unnoticed. Here in the United States, Free Press, a media reform organization, collected more than 40,000 signatures in December urging New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg and Los Angeles Mayor Antonio Villaraigosa, the President of the U.S. Conference of Mayors, to protect the rights of journalists. The group also tracks the arrest of journalists. Thanks to major technological shifts making it easier to record and document events, social media and a huge increase in citizen journalism, we can hope that no matter how hard governments try, the people will be able to continue to document their struggles for freedom worldwide.