Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States 47th on their 2011-2012 Press Freedom Index, down 27 places from the previous year, tied with Argentina and Romania.
“In the space of two months in the United States, more than 25 [journalists] were subjected to arrests and beatings at the hands of police who were quick to issue indictments for inappropriate behaviour, public nuisance or even lack of accreditation,” Reporters Without Borders wrote in their report. The US “owed its fall” to arrests and harassment related to coverage of the Occupy Wall Street movement, the non-profit reporters’ rights group said.
The drop saw the US ranked just above Latvia, and Trinidad and Tobago, which fell 20 places due to a scandal involving the government spying on journalists.
In a statement released along with the index today, Reporters Without Borders noted that “Many media [around the world] paid dearly for their coverage of democratic aspirations or opposition movements…. Crackdown was the word of the year in 2011.”
In North African and Middle East, the Arab uprisings greatly affected the rankings of several nations. In Tunisia and Libya rose in the index as censorious regimes were deposed. Egypt, however, fell 39 places in the index due in part to “The hounding of foreign journalists for three days at the start of February, the interrogations, arrests and convictions of journalists and bloggers by military courts, and the searches without warrants,” the report said.
Syria and Yemen were already lowly ranked, so their crackdowns on demonstrations and journalists only caused them to sink a bit lower. Iran fell in the rankings to 175. China, “which has more journalists, bloggers and cyber-dissidents in prison than any other country,” the report notes, also ranked near the bottom of the index at 174.
Eritrea was the worst nation in the ranking for a fifth straight year, and its Horn of Africa neighbors Somalia and Sudan also received low rankings as part of an East African region where journalists are regularly subjected to violence, censorship and lengthy prison sentences served in awful conditions.
The Press Freedom Index is calculated using a scoring system based on a questionnaire distributed to partner organizations, a network of 150 correspondents around the world, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists.
For the full report and more on the creation of the index, see the full Reporters Without Borders release.