WASHINGTON – The United States’ may have many of the world’s leading media outlets, but it barely made it into the top 50 in a list of countries that lead the way in freedom of information.
Reporters Without Borders released the World Press Freedom Index 2015 on Thursday. The report has been issued annually since 2002. It is used to measure the freedom of information in 180 countries.
This new edition shows that two-thirds of the countries performed worse than in the previous year. Overall, the report found an 8 percent increase in the level of violations of freedom of information from 2013 to 2014.
The United States dropped from the 46th spot to the 49th. This is not the first time the country dropped. The U.S. position in the index has fluctuated.
Delphine Halgand, the U.S. director of Reporters without Borders, said the rankings change mainly in relation to movement by other countries. In the United States’ case, however, she said one of the main concerns is what she said was the Obama administration’s war against whistleblowers.
During Obama’s time in office, eight whistleblowers have been prosecuted. Halgand said this is the highest number than any other administration.
“In a country where mostly all information related to national security is classified and secret, if you don’t have leaks, then you can only stay with the press briefing version,” Halgand said referring to the United States’ drop.
The EU-Balkan region secured the first five places of the index, with Finland at No. 1 for the sixth year in a row. Reporters without Borders said that, despite EU-Balkan region topping the list, countries in that region recorded the biggest fall in their scores between 2013 and 2014.
The organization said the EU is exposing the limits of its democratic model, and it appears to be “swamped by a certain desire on the part of some member states to compromise on freedom of information.”
Most of the first 21 spots are taken by European countries.
Canada, Jamaica and Costa Rica are the only representatives of the American continent in the top 21 places, and Namibia is the only African country.
The bottom of the list includes countries from North Africa and the Middle East. Countries in these regions are, according to the report, controlled by non-state groups that do not allow the existence of independent information.
The last five countries on the list are China, Syria, Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea, which ranked 180. All have faced worldwide criticism for their restrictive laws and censorship regulations.
In some of the bottom countries, non-state organizations are present. These, according to Reporters without Borders, share an intolerance of information that is contrary to its aims. One of the most prominent examples is the Islamic State group in Iraq and Syria where the jihadi militants took over control of the media.
In countries where there’s a presence of a non-state organization, journalists have to protect themselves by covering stories from afar and in an indirect manner.
Due to the ISIS presence, Syria was categorized by the organization as the world’s most dangerous country for journalists since the start of the uprising.
Another characteristic of countries from the bottom of the list is censorship laws such as the “Great Firewall” in China. It is a mechanism that creates information blackouts on search engines and can regularly delete entries in China’s version of Twitter.
North Korea was not addressed by Reporters Without Borders during the presentation, but it made headlines in 2014 when it was revealed it was behind a hack of Sony because of the movie “The Interview,” which makes fun of its leader.
The hacks by the North Korean government brought cybersecurity into question. The subject has been widely debated by experts and government officials. President Barack Obama acknowledged the need to combat cyber threats during his Jan. 20 State of the Union speech.
Reach reporter Alicia Alvarez at [email protected] or 202-408-1489. SHFWire stories are free to any news organization that gives the reporter a byline and credits the SHFWire. Like the Scripps Howard Foundation Wire interns on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.