February 19, 2014

The following information was taken from an on-line publication called Reporters Without Borders and Industry Week.

Our founding fathers exhibited remarkable vision when structuring the Government of the United States.  Three branches; Executive, Legislative and Judicial—separate but equal.  Separate is easy because each branch has its own duties and responsibilities as spelled out by the Constitution.  The equal is more difficult.  Equal depends upon a free-flow of information between each branch, something in fairly short supply these days.  For this reason, we depend upon the press.  A free press, unobstructed relative to telling the entire story—supposedly the real truth.   Admittedly our “free” press is definitely biased.   You have media outlets leaning left; i.e. MSNBC, NBC, CNN, NPR. etc., and those leaning right; Fox News, Wall Street Journal, etc.   We get to pick and choose and in the end, believe whomever we will.   The issue is access to a story.  The access provided by the “Fed” is absolutely critical to ensure basic freedoms we now enjoy.   This access, by the way, includes stories and notifications involving STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) subjects.  Can you imagine our Federal government withholding a truly groundbreaking announcement on a drug proven to be life-saving?  That would be a definite travesty of justice.

The 2014 World Press Freedom Index that Reporters Without Borders publishes every year measures the level of freedom of information within 180 countries.  It reflects the degree of freedom journalists, news organizations and news agencies enjoy in each country of those countries, and the efforts made by authorities to respect and ensure freedom of the press.   It is based partly on a questionnaire sent to cooperating partner organizations (18 freedom of expression non-government organizations (NGOs) located on all five continents), to a network of 150 correspondents, and to journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists. The 180 countries ranked in this year’s index are those for which Reporters Without Borders received completed questionnaires from various sources. Some countries were not included because of a lack of reliable, confirmed data.   The rankings are determined as follows:

The questions consider six general criteria. Using a system of weighting for each possible response, countries are given a score of between 0 and 100 for each of the six overall criteria. These scores are then used as indicators in calculating each country’s final score.

o   Pluralism–measures the degree of representation of opinions

o   Media independence—Measures the degree to which the media are able to function independently of the authorities.

o   Environment and self-censorship— Analyses the environment in which journalists work

o   Legislative framework–Analyses the quality of the legislative framework and measures its effectiveness

o   Transparency–Measures the transparency of the institutions and procedures that affect the production of news and information.

o   Infrastructure–Measures the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information.

Given below is a map showing the various rankings.  Please note the color codes in the center.



If you study this map, you will find several very fascinating situations, one being the United States has “a satisfactory situation” relative to freedom of the press but not an outstanding ranking.  Several countries in the Middle East and certainly China have very serious problems.  The top twenty-five (25) rankings are as follows:

  • Finland
  • Netherlands
  • Norway
  • Luxembourg
  • Andorra
  • Liechtenstein
  • Denmark
  • Iceland
  • New Zealand
  • Sweden
  • Estonia
  • Austria
  • Czech Republic
  • Germany
  • Switzerland
  • Ireland
  • Jamaica
  • Canada
  • Poland
  • Slovakia
  • Costa Rica
  • Namibia
  • Belgium
  • Cape Verde
  • Cyprus

The “bottom feeders” are as follows:

  • Turkmenistan
  • North Korea
  • Eritrea

The United States is forth-sixth (46th) on the list.   There are definite reasons for our ranking and the fall in that ranking relative to 2009.

In the United States, 9/11 spawned a major conflict between the imperatives of national security and the principles of the constitution’s First Amendment. This amendment enshrines every person’s right to inform and be informed. But the heritage of the 1776 constitution was shaken to its foundations during George W. Bush’s two terms as president by the way journalists were harassed and even imprisoned for refusing to reveal their sources or surrender their files to federal judicial officials.

There has been little improvement in practice under Barack Obama. Rather than pursuing journalists, the emphasis has been on going after their sources, but often using the journalist to identify them. No fewer than eight individuals have been charged under the Espionage Act since Obama became president, compared with three during Bush’s two terms.   While 2012 was in part the year of WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange received his fifteen minutes of fame, 2013 will be remembered for the National Security Agency (NSA) computer specialist Edward Snowden, who exposed the mass surveillance methods developed by the US intelligence agencies.

The whistleblower is the enemy. Hence the 35-year jail term imposed on Private Chelsea Bradley Manning for being the WikiLeaks source.  This is an extremely long sentence but small in comparison with the 105-year sentence requested for freelance journalist Barrett Brown in a hacking case. Amid an all-out hunt for leaks and sources, 2013 will also be the year of the Associated Press scandal, which came to light when the Department of Justice acknowledged that it had seized the news agency’s phone records.

To calibrate our position, let’s take a look at other countries to see where they stand relative to freedom of the press.

  • United Kingdom   33rd
  • Japan                        59th
  • Turkey                      154th
  • Morocco                  136th
  • Israel                           96th
  • Guatemala              125th
  • Georgia                       84th
  • Brazil                         111th
  • Russia                        148th
  • China                          175th
  • India                           140th

Please keep in mind that only 180 countries participated in the survey.  There is no doubt that governments control their people by controlling the press and yet, it is absolutely mandatory that we have unfettered freedom of the press if we are to continue as a viable republic.

I definitely await your comments on this one.

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