Press Freedom Index Falls for Both Canada and the United States

Reporters Without Borders has released its annual report for the state of international press freedom. The news is not good for both Canada and the US.

With the arrest of Julian Assange earlier this month, the freedom of the press has been put into focus. As it turns out, International non-profit organization, has recently released it’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index report. Generally speaking, the news isn’t that good for the world.

For Canada, the reviews are mixed. On the one hand, Canada’s international ranking rose to the point of going back in the top 20 (ranked as 18 in the world). While on the surface, this sounds like great news, Canada’s overall global press freedom fell by 0.41. So, the actual picture is that Canada’s press freedom didn’t fall quite as much as other countries. The organization says that although there have been positive steps to protect journalistic freedom, the Trudeau government has become a disappointment thanks in part to the story surrounding a VICE News reporter as well as other incidences. From the report:

A VICE News reporter is still fighting a court order compelling him to hand over communications with his source to the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, while another journalist for The Independent is facing criminal and civil charges for his coverage of protests against a hydroelectric project in Labrador. A draft reform project for controversial Bill C-51 uses national security as an excuse to chill the free flow of information online, while the recent closure of more than forty independent newspapers following an agreement between two of the country’s largest publishers risks compromising media pluralism in the country.

While the picture isn’t great for Canada, it is even worse for the United States. The US slipped 3 places and is now 48 in the world for press freedom. The global ranking for the country fell by 1.96. Front and centre is the presidents continued attacks on the media. From report:

He has declared the press an “enemy of the American people” in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting. He has even called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses. The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Reporters have even been subject to physical assault while on the job. It appears the Trump effect has only amplified the disappointing press freedom climate that predated his presidency. Whistleblowers face prosecution under the Espionage Act if they leak information of public interest to the press, while there is still no federal “shield law” guaranteeing reporters’ right to protect their sources. Journalists and their devices continue to be searched at the US border, while some foreign journalists are still denied entry into the US after covering sensitive topics like Colombia’s FARC or Kurdistan.

The news wasn’t all bad in the report. There are countries that improved their press freedom index. Finland, for example, jumped up to 2nd place in the world. Norway is still number one in the world for press freedom. Sweden rounds out the top three. Denmark jumped 4 places to make it into the top 5. Also, New Zealand moved up to 7th in the world. So, the report isn’t nothing but bad news, but it just so happens that both Canada and the US simply had a poorer performance for protecting journalists.

One of the key elements for protecting digital rights is the protection of free speech. One way to measure how strong free speech is is to see how well the media is protected. As digital rights seems to be deteriorating over the last year thanks in part to Europe’s passage of article 13/17, this latest publication seems to fit the trend that digital and human rights are seemingly on the decline. One would hope that things will turn around, but at the moment, it seems the clouds of uncertainty continue to grow darker.

Drew Wilson on Twitter: @icecube85 and Facebook.

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