U.S. Freedom of Press under Attack

Reporters without Boarders rank nations according to freedom of press. The United States ranks 32nd out of 179 nations in 2013. 20% of world’s nations score better than (supposedly free) U.S. I think it is bad for a country that used to be an icon of freedom but the rank of 32 is actually an improvement over the last two years, when U.S. ranked 47th. (http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html).

As someone who lived in a country with no freedom of speech, the U.S. low ranking brings out old fears. The United States does not just trend behind traditional free press countries of Northern Europe like Finland or Norway, but it has fallen behind some former Eastern Bloc countries like Estonia (formerly part of Soviet Union), Czech Republic, Poland and Slovakia. U.S. also ranked worse than several African and Central American nations.

I immigrated to the United States from what was then Czechoslovakia (now Czech Republic and Slovakia) because of government oppression and suppressed freedom of speech. How ironic, that today the press is enjoying more freedom in both Czech Republic and Slovakia then in the United States. See the ranking comparison below:

Figures from this graph were obtained from Reporters without Boarders website

Figures from this graph were obtained from Reporters without Boarders website

See the Freedom of Press Index here: http://en.rsf.org/press-freedom-index-2013,1054.html.

The Barack Obama’s promise of the most transparent government is not reflected in the freedom of speech it affords to journalists. After a hopeful trend at the beginning of Obama’s first term, the ranking returned close to Bush era levels. While 2013 shows an improvement over previous couple of years, the trend is not likely to continue.

Consider the attempt by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to place “researchers” into newsrooms across America to conduct “study of critical information needs,” which one dissenting commissioner said would let researchers ”grill reporters, editors and station owners about how they decide which stories to run.”

According to FCC website, “this research can be used to identify and understand the critical information needs (CINs) of the American public (with special emphasis on vulnerable/disadvantaged populations).” The Research Design for the Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs was put together for FCC by Social Solutions International, Inc. (SSi), and is available for download from the FCC website.

This is how communists in Czechoslovakia censored the media. It did not happen overnight, but eventually, each newsroom had a communist mentor, who decided what would be broadcasted, and spied on reporters to make sure they towed the line. Eventually, all the reporters were just government puppets, reading the government provided scripts. If a news anchor stuttered while pronouncing a Russian politician’s name or miss-pronounced it, his or her face suddenly disappeared from Czech TV screens.

While FCC is not overtly proposing that kind of censorship, at least not yet, I am hoping that it is clear to any free-minded American that in a free society, the government has no business of asking, let alone requiring, media to cooperate with it in any way.

It is the government who is obligated to report to press, not the other way around but evidently Obama administration did not get the memo.

Reportedly, this administration is a well oiled machine and has achieved unprecedented success in media manipulation. It went way beyond any (still deplorable) media manipulation employed by its predecessors. Here are some words from Mike McCurry, who was the press secretary to President Bill Clinton during the Monica Lewinsky scandal, published by Politico:

“The balance of power used to be much more in favor of the mainstream press…  The White House gets away with stuff I would never have dreamed of doing. When I talk to White House reporters now, they say it’s really tough to do business with people who don’t see the need to be cooperative.”

And that is saying something, coming from a guy who was no stranger to putting Clinton in front of friendly reporters.

“They use every technique anyone has ever thought of, and some no one ever had,” New York Times White House reporter Peter Baker told Politico. “They can be very responsive and very helpful at pulling back the curtain at times while keeping you at bay at others. And they’re not at all shy about making clear when they don’t like your stories, which is quite often.”

Source: Politico – Behind the Curtain

Here are some links to reactions to Politico’s article – neither of which disagree with the main point that the media is being manipulated by the White House:

Here are some other links to articles depicting Obama’s administration heavy handed media manipulation:

The list above is by no means exhaustive but you get an idea. To those who may be quick to point out that the practice of press manipulation and stonewalling is not limited to current administration – I agree. I don’t care whose administration does it, it’s a problem. It was a problem under Bush, and it is even bigger problem under Obama.

Does it strike you as odd that the “Multi-Market Study of Critical Information Needs” should start before elections? Whose “needs” is it going to “study”?

Do you think that preelection targeting of mostly conservative political groups applying for tax-exempt status for closer scrutiny by IRS was a work of a small group of employees acting independently – or was it the administration’s (successful) effort to limit its opposition voices? Think hard because the IRS is targeting political speech again (02/21/2014).

Are you afraid yet? If you are not, you should be.

I am the Immigrant – and I love this country.

Update – 2017:

From the Reporters without borders website (https://rsf.org/en/united-states):

US press freedom, enshrined in the First Amendment to the 1787 constitution, has encountered several major obstacles over the past few years, most recently with the election of President Donald Trump. He has declared the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, while attempting to block White House access to multiple media outlets in retaliation for critical reporting. Despite the bleak outlook under Trump, it bears repeating that his predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information. Journalists continue to be arrested for covering various protests around the country, with several currently facing criminal charges. The Obama administration waged a war on whistleblowers who leaked information about its activities, leading to the prosecution of more leakers than any previous administration combined. To this day, American journalists are still not protected by a federal “shield law” guaranteeing their right to protect their sources and other confidential work-related information. And over the past few years, there has been an increase in prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the US border, with some foreign journalists being prevented from any travel to the US after they covered sensitive topics such as Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan

US Rank in 2016/2017:   41/43, respectively

Czech Republic Rank in 2016/2017:  21/23, respectively

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