Yes, that's right--the US is now ranked at number 53 in the world, along with Botswana, Croatia, and Tonga, when it comes to freedom of the press.
The press is freer in Mozambique than it is in the United States, according to the latest Worldwide Press Freedom Index, published by the Paris-based press freedom body, Reporters sans Frontieres (RSF - Reporters without Borders).
The RSF index gives each country a score, based on the degree of freedom for journalists and media organisations. . . .
But the United States has been falling steadily. In the first year the index was published it was in 17th position. Last year the US was in 44th position, and this year it is ranked as number 53 alongside Botswana, Croatia and Tonga.
RSF explains that this decline arises from the deterioration in relations between the Bush administration and the media "after the President used the pretext of "national security" to regard as suspicious any journalist who questioned his "war on terrorism".
RSF also points out that US federal courts refuse to recognise journalists' cherished right not to reveal their sources. This includes "even threatens journalists whose investigations have no connection at all with terrorism."
RSF notes, in particular, the cases of freelance journalist Josh Wolf, imprisoned by the US authorities when he refused to hand over his video archive; of Sudanese cameraman Sami al-Haj held without trial at the US military base of Guantanamo since June 2002; and of an Associated Press photographer, Bilal Hussein, held by the US in Iraq since April this year.
Let me remind you that we have heard calls for charges of treason against the New York Times and its reporters for publishing facts that the Bush administration finds inconvenient, and that, for the first time ever, the Justice Department (make that "Justice") is mulling over the possible use of the Espionage Act against journalists.
Yes, it's come to this. We're jailing people for telling the truth, because that truth casts the Emperor in a bad light.
Remember, under the recently passed Military Commissions Act, Bush has the power to call anybody he wants an "unlawful enemy combatant" and to arrest and detain said combatant forever, with no charges being brought and no right to legal representation, cut off from all help and subject to torture. Does anyone doubt that such power can be brought to bear against journalists? Um, make that, does anyone doubt that such power has already been brought to bear? We know it has.
According to CPJ, at least eight journalists have been detained for weeks or months by Iraqi and coalition forces. They include employees of CBS News, Reuters, the AP and Agence France-Presse among others. At least four of the detentions have exceeded 100 days, Campagna said.
Freedom of the press is crucial to maintaining any semblance of a democracy. I'd say that here in the US, we've lost any claim to being one. Just as horrifying is the fact that the media have been willing, even eager, to surrender their independence and become, instead, propagandists. They barely protest when their own reporters and photographers are threatened or detained.
American democracy, R.I.P.