Friday, October 31, 2008

We're number 41! (a non-religious 1st amendment post)

On FriendFeed, Kol Tregaskes shared a picture entitled "We're (not) #1!" The picture showed a variety of country rankings, arranged by different topics (life expectancy, Internet speed, etc.). The picture listed the top countries, then showed where America fell in the list.

Both Alex Scoble and I wondered about the "freedom of the press" list. Not that we were surprised that the United States wasn't first on the list, but why was it ranked forty-first?

After some digging, I found that this ranking was based upon Reporters sans frontieres' press freedom index for 2008.

And technically, the U.S. wasn't 41st. It was tied with five other countries for 36th place.

The top three countries in the rankings, Iceland, Luxembourg, and Norway, had a score of 1.50.

Bosnia and Herzegovina, Cape Verde, South Africa, Spain, Taiwan, and the United States had a score of 8.00.

The bottom ten, all with scores of 70.00 or above, were

Laos 70,00
Sri Lanka 78,00
Iran 80,33
China 85,50
Vietnam 86,17
Cuba 88,33
Burma 94,38
Turkmenistan 95,50
North Korea 96,50
Eritrea 97,50

Denmark, incidentally, was tied for 14th with a score of 3.50.

So how was the survey compiled?

The Reporters Without Borders index measures the state of press freedom in the world. It reflects the degree of freedom that journalists and news organisations enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect and ensure respect for this freedom.

A score and a position is assigned to each country in the final ranking. They are complementary indicators that together assess the state of press freedom. A country can change position from year to year even if its score stays the same, and vice-versa.

This ranking reflects the situation during a specific period. It is based solely on events between 1 September 2007 and 1 September 2008. It does not look at human rights violations in general, just press freedom violations.

To compile this index, Reporters Without Borders prepared a questionnaire with 49 criteria that assess the state of press freedom in each country. It includes every kind of violation directly affecting journalists (such as murders, imprisonment, physical attacks and threats) and news media (censorship, confiscation of newspaper issues, searches and harassment). Ánd it includes the degree of impunity enjoyed by those responsible for these press freedom violations.

It also measures the level of self-censorship in each country and the ability of the media to investigate and criticise. Financial pressure, which is increasingly common, is also assessed and incorporated into the final score.

The questionnaire takes account of the legal framework for the media (including penalties for press offences, the existence of a state monopoly for certain kinds of media and how the media are regulated) and the level of independence of the public media. It also reflects violations of the free flow of information on the Internet.

On another page, the score of the United States was explained:

The United States rose twelve places to 36th position. The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions.

So is Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontieres) correct in its estimate? Even the U.S.-based National Press Club has concerns about U.S. treatment of the press:

National Press Club salutes release of AP photographer

WASHINGTON – Sylvia Smith, president of the National Press Club, saluted the announcement Monday that the U.S. military will release AP photographer Bilal Hussein this week after more than two years in custody in Iraq.

"Journalists who risk their lives to report in dangerous areas of the world, particularly war zones, are the bravest members of our profession. Democracy can’t function without accurate information about the actions of the government," she said.

"On behalf of the 3,700 members of the National Press Club, I commend the U.S. military for agreeing to release Hussein," she said.

Hussein has been in custody for more than two years. Last week a judicial committee in Baghdad ordered his release, and on Sunday a panel dismissed the remaining criminal allegation against him and ordered his release.

Hussein was accused of having improper contact with insurgents who had killed an Italian citizen. He repeatedly insisted he was performing the work of a journalist in a war zone. His employer, The Associated Press, has said that a review of Hussein's work and contacts found no evidence of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer.

The National Press Club is a membership organization dedicated to promoting excellence in journalism and protecting the First Amendment guarantees of freedom of speech and of press. Founded in 1908, it is the nation's largest journalism association, and its 3,700 members span the globe.

National Press Club Celebrates Dismissal of Charges Against AP Photographer

April 9, 2008

WASHINGTON – The National Press Club joined other journalism organizations Wednesday in celebrating the dismissal of terrorism-related allegations against an Associated Press photographer.

A judicial committee in Baghdad ordered the release of Bilal Hussein nearly two years after he was detained by the U.S. military.

"This is a long-overdue decision," said Sylvia Smith, president of the National Press Club. "The next step is to free him."

"Bilal is not a member of the National Press Club, but he is a brother journalist," Smith said. "When the freedoms of any journalist are curtailed, all of us are diminished.

The Associated Press, Hussein's employer, said a review of his work and contacts found no evidence of any activities beyond the normal role of a news photographer. Hussein was a member of an AP team that won a Pulitzer Prize for photography in 2005.

A four-judge panel said Hussein's case is covered by a new amnesty law. It ordered Iraqi courts to stop any legal proceedings.

The AP reported that the amnesty committee -- or any Iraqi institution -- cannot force the U.S. military to release or turn over any of the estimated 23,000 detainees it holds in Iraq. But a provision in the amnesty law states that the Iraqi government "is committed to take the necessary measures to move the arrested people" from U.S. control.

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