MANHATTAN (CN) – The United States dropped 27 places – to a tie with Romania – in the Reporters Without Borders 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, after dozens of journalists were arrested for covering the Occupy Wall Street protests.
Now ranked 47th, the United States shares its spot with Romania and Argentina, just below Taiwan and higher than Latvia.
“I think the Occupy Wall Street arrests were our biggest concern,” the organization’s Washington, D.C. director Delphine Halgand told Courthouse News in a telephone interview.
The 19-page report chided governments around the world for clamping down on protests, opening this year’s report with the caption: “Crackdowns on Protests Cause Big Changes to Index Positions.”
“Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011,” the report states. “Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much. Never have acts of censorship and physical attacks on journalists seemed so numerous. The equation is simple: the absence or suppression of civil liberties leads necessarily to the suppression of media freedom. Dictatorships fear and ban information, especially when it may undermine them.”
Halgand added: “It’s striking that these incidents are happening in a democracy like the U.S.”
The section of the report explaining the United States’ rank focuses exclusively on journalists covering the Occupy demonstrations against corporate corruption.
“In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behavior, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation,” the report states.
Reporters Without Borders was also concerned about journalists being forced to reveal their sources, the prosecution of suspected whistleblowers, and limited access to government information, Halgand said.
She cited the effort to force New York Times reporter James Risento name his CIA source for a book, and the expulsion of journalists from Guantanamo Bay prison as other factors in the United States’ lowered ranking.
In a recent column, Salon columnist Glenn Greenwald noted that the Obama administration has prosecuted six people for espionage charges related to alleged leaks to journalists: twice the number of such prosecutions for all previous presidents combined.
Halgand would not comment on the potential impact of the so-called “Homeland Battlefield Bill” on next year’s report.
Signed on New Year’s Eve, the 2012 National Defense Authorization Act allows the military to indefinitely detain anyone it suspects of planning or aiding terrorism, without charge or trial.
Chris Hedges, a former war correspondent, said it posed a threat to journalists who report the views of people and organizations that the United States declares an enemy.
Although the organization has no official statement on the lawsuit, Reporters Without Borders is watching the issue closely, Halgand said.