A new report from Freedom House, a Washington, D.C.-based non-governmental organization that works to promote democracy across the globe, suggests that press freedom in the United States experienced a slight decline in 2011.
In its latest annual Freedom of the Press Index, Freedom House downgraded the U.S. because of the way police treated journalists during the Occupy protests toward the latter half of 2011.
“The overall score declined by one point due to detentions, rough police tactics, and other difficulties encountered by journalists while covering protests associated with the Occupy movement,” said Freedom House’s 2012 report, which was published Tuesday.
Freedom House grades each country on a scale of 1 to 100, with lower scores signifying more freedom. The U.S., which previously held a score of 17, was downgraded to a score of 18.
The organization still considers the U.S. as one of the top performers on index of 197 countries, but it falls behind countries like Finland, Norway and Sweden, which were ranked 1-3 respectively. The U.S. is ranked 24 on Freedom House’s index. North Korea was ranked last.
Karin Karlekar, Managing Editor for the Freedom of the Press Index, told TheDC that the once the Occupy movement gained momentum, Freedom House observed that the treatment of journalists by police improved.
“I think a lot of the rougher tactics were earlier in the protests,” said Karlekar.
Poor treatment of the press on the federal level is another one of the several reasons why the U.S. was downgraded, Karlekar told TheDC. The federal government, she said, has attempted to force journalists to identify their sources in recent years because of concerns over national security, despite the legal protections guaranteed by the First Amendment.
“I think that a lot of people were hoping that it would change under President Barack Obama, but unfortunately, that has not been the case,” said Karlekar.
Legislation was introduced in Congress for the protection of journalists’ sources, but was defeated, Karlekar told TheDC. Efforts to revive the legislation have so far gone nowhere despite the change in congressional leadership.
“There didn’t seem to be much of a difference when the Democrats had control of Congress,” said Karlekar. “Unfortunately, it [resistance to the legislation] seems to be bipartisan.”
In Freedom House’s 2011 report, the organization observed that at least 37 states had laws protecting journalists from revealing confidential sources. The organization noted in its new report, however, that at least the federal courts have tried to push back against laws that hamper journalists.
“On a positive note, in 2011 the federal judiciary showed signs of resisting government demands for reporters’ notes and the names of their sources in cases involving leaks of classified information,” said the organization in its report.