The U.S. plummeted to a dismal 49th place on the Reporters Without Borders annual Press Freedom Index, marking the country’s second lowest ranking since the list was created in 2002 and its lowest since 2006. Other countries ranked in the 40s and 50s include Haiti, Mongolia, and Chile.
The index cited “judicial harassment” of New York Times reporter James Risen, the arbitrary arrest of at least 15 journalists during the Ferguson, Missouri clashes, and the fact that U.S. journalists are still not legally entitled to protect sources who reveal confidential information about their work.
The U.S.’s slip in press freedom rankings mirrors its seven-place drop in Freedom House’s Global Press Freedom Index from 2013-2014, though the country still ranks among the 14 percent of countries whose press is classified as “free” in the latter scale.
Reality may be even worse than the rankings suggest. Legal protections for the press have only eroded since the 2006 trough year when the Bush Administration threatened to prosecute Risen for publishing stories chronicling warrantless wiretapping of citizens’ phone calls.
Since the Obama Administration took power, it has used the Espionage Act to prosecute data leakers a record seven times—more than every other president combined in the law’s nearly 100-year history—a Fox News journalist has been spied on by the Justice Department under the justification that he’s a criminal conspirator, Wikileaks creator Julian Assange has been declared “a hi-tech terrorist,” and the Supreme Court refused to overturn a lower court ruling against Risen stating that the First Amendment doesn’t protect him from refusing to testify about a whistleblower that allegedly leaked classified information about the CIA’s efforts to disrupt Iran’s nuclear program.