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2014-02-12

U.S. Plunges in Global Press Freedom Rankings as Obama Wages "War on Whistleblowers"

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A new survey of press freedom around the world finds the United States has plunged 13 spots, now ranking just 46th among 180 countries. The annual survey by Reporters Without Borders also says Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists, showing a correlation between conflict zones and a low level of press freedom. Other countries that fell lower than in the previous year’s survey include the civil-war-torn Central African Republic, down 43 spots to 109, and Guatemala, where four journalists were killed last year alone. This comes as the United Nations General Assembly recently adopted its first resolution on the safety of journalists. The group has now called on the United Nations to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters. We are joined by Delphine Halgand of Reporters Without Borders.

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end today’s show with a new survey of press freedom around the world that finds the United States plunged 13 spots and now ranks just 46th among 180 countries. The annual survey by Reporters Without Borders says Syria is the most dangerous country for journalists, showing a correlation between conflict zones and a low level of press freedom. Other countries that fell lower than in the previous year’s survey include the civil-war-torn Central African Republic, down 43 spots to 109, and Guatemala, where four journalists were killed last year alone.

AMY GOODMAN: This comes as the United Nations General Assembly recently adopted its first resolution on the safety of journalists. The group has now called on the U.N. to monitor how member states meet their obligations to protect reporters.

For more, we go to Washington, D.C., where we’re joined by Delphine Halgand, U.S. director for Reporters Without Borders.

Welcome to Democracy Now! Talk about who’s on the list and also the United States dropping so far to 46. Why?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, in our annual ranking, we rank the level of press freedom in 180 countries. We publish this ranking every year since 2002. But as you highlighted, the decline of the U.S. this year is one of the significant decline of the year. So there is actually many reason to explain this decline.

So, first, if you want to give a title of 2013 for the U.S., we could say that the whistleblower is the enemy. Just to remind you, you know that since Obama took office in 2009, eight whistleblowers have been charged under the Espionage Act, which is the highest number under any administration combined. So, really, this is a strategy. It’s not a coincidence. And you just have to remember that leaks are the lifeblood of investigative journalists. And mostly in a country where every information related to national security is classified and considered secrets, without leaks there is no other explanation of what is happening except the official version.

So, with the idea that now it’s clear that whistleblowers are the enemy of the administration, 2013 will remain as the year of the AP scandal, when the Department of Justice acknowledged that they seized the news agency’s foreign records. But also 2013 will be remembered as the year where the whistleblower Manning was condemned to 35 years in prison. Another whistleblower was imprisoned in 2013, John Kiriakou, a former CIA agent who was condemned to 30 months in prison. But on the top of that, 2013 will be remembered as the year of Edward Snowden’s revelation on the NSA mass surveillance methods, which has also for journalists very concerning consequences for the protection—for the possibility to even protect your sources, if you contact them by email or phone. So, all these reasons explain this very significative decline for the U.S. this year.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And, Delphine Halgand, could you also speak about Syria, Syria being the most dangerous country in the world for journalists, and how the situation there in 2013 compared to the year before?

DELPHINE HALGAND: Yes. So, since the conflict started in March 2011, Syria is the deadliest and most dangerous country for journalists. And it’s—even if the situation has been dramatic for years, we can observe that every day the situation is declining and declining, getting worst and worst. Just to give you numbers, but then I want to tell you some stories to get some perspective on what is happening, so since the conflict started in 2011, more than 130 news providers were killed in Syria, including 45 last year.

Another dramatic number is that at least 16 foreign reporters are currently missing, detained or kidnapped in Syria. Among them are two American reporters, a amazing human being, a great journalist, James Foley, and Austin Tice. James Foley is a very experienced journalist who has been already reported in Libya, and he was kidnapped there. He’s an amazing human being, always thinking to his colleagues. Austin Tice is a young independent journalist who was reporting for McClatchy or The Washington Post, and we are waiting to hear news from them.

But as I say, the situation continues to decline. Because the situation is becoming more and more complex, now reporters are attacked by all sides. On one hand, they are still targeted by Bashar al-Assad’s regular army, who is still try to silence all the news provider who wants to document the conflict. And on the other end, reporters are now targeted very violently by a Islamist group, who are supposed to have liberated the north. So the consequences are dramatic, actually—

AMY GOODMAN: The—

DELPHINE HALGAND: —because so many—yes, sorry.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to move from Syria to Mexico before we end, because we only have a minute.

DELPHINE HALGAND: OK.

AMY GOODMAN: Tuesday night, people in Mexico City joined a nationwide call to protest the murder of journalist Gregorio Jiménez in the state of Veracruz. His wife told police masked gunmen broke into their home last Wednesday, dragged him away. His body was later discovered. Jiménez had recently published a story about a wave of kidnappings of migrants. This is the protest organizer, Gisela Martínez.

GISELA MARTÍNEZ: [translated] The authorities can’t even guarantee minimal protection to journalists. We have seen how, little by little, freedom of expression has been undermined all over, from the repression against protesters struggling for their rights, something we ourselves have experienced, but we’ve also seen how this has been happening for a while. And in various states, there’s an imposition of silence because journalists are scared to speak. This is converted into not even a gag, but an outright slaughterhouse, where speaking the truth carries with it a death sentence. We’re appalled and enraged and sad, because there is no justice.

AMY GOODMAN: Special thanks to Andalusia Knoll for that clip. At least a dozen journalists have been slain or gone missing there [in Veracruz] since 2010. Mexico ranked 152nd out of 180 countries in this year’s index. Delphine, we just have 30 seconds, if you can wrap that into the overall findings?

DELPHINE HALGAND: So, the situation in Mexico remains very concerning, but I just want to highlight that in the last year we observed a decrease of violence. The number of journalists killed has a little bit decreased, so it’s a hope, I hope. But now, as your report pointed out, impunity stay a major concern. Almost all journalists who were killed stay completely unsolved, and nobody has been jailed for and be taken responsible.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to link to the index. We thank you so much, Delphine Halgand, the U.S. director of Reporters Without Borders.

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