News & Politics

How Free Is Our Press?

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Here in the United States, we pride ourselves on the freedoms that our Bill of Rights provides, especially the freedom of speech, religion, and assembly in the First Amendment. A free press allows journalists and opinion writers to speak freely, even when their thoughts and ideas run counter to those of politicians and leaders.

It’s no secret that our media has become increasingly partisan, with the vast majority leaning left, while some outlets like Fox News have almost turned into Trump propaganda organizations. These days the reader of news can get coverage that fits his or her bias any day of the week.

On top of the increasing partisanship in the media, the president has taken scores of reporters, newspapers, and television outlets to task for spreading “fake news.” But is Donald Trump really a danger to a free press in America? One group thinks so.

The organization Reporters Without Borders ranks press freedom across the globe on in their annual report. Their latest findings put the United States at number 45 of 180 on the list, down from 43rd place last year.

Why? Because Reporters Without Borders sees President Trump as a threat to the press:

More and more democratically-elected leaders no longer see the media as part of democracy’s essential underpinning, but as an adversary to which they openly display their aversion. The United States, the country of the First Amendment, has fallen again in the Index under Donald Trump, this time two places to 45th. A media-bashing enthusiast, Trump has referred to reporters “enemies of the people,” the term once used by Joseph Stalin.

Now, America still falls within the “pretty good” range in the report. Their criteria for measuring press freedom is interesting, considering that they call Trump out directly:

…the World Press Freedom Index measures the level of media freedom in 180 countries, including the level of pluralism, media independence, the environment and self-censorship, the legal framework, transparency, and the quality of the infrastructure that supports the production of news and information. It does not evaluate government policy.

And so far, the Trump administration has not issued any policy that threatens journalistic liberty, even though he has hinted at threats. True, America’s ranking isn’t as low as North Korea (dead last), Saudi Arabia (169th), China (176th), Vietnam (175th) or even Russia (148th). Most of the Middle East rates in the “bad” or “very bad” categories, but the report doesn’t call out most of their leaders by name.

The group does call out a couple of other leaders in their report:

Verbal violence from politicians against the media is also on the rise in Europe, although it is the region that respects press freedom most. In the Czech Republic (down 11 at 34th), President Milos Zeman turned up at a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov inscribed with the words “for journalists.” In Slovakia, (down 10 at 27th), then Prime Minister Robert Fico called journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas.” A Slovak reporter, Ján Kuciak, was shot dead in his home in February 2018, just four months after another European journalist, Daphne Caruana Galizia, was killed by a targeted car-bombing in Malta (down 18 at 65th).

But notice how both Slovakia and the Czech Republic rank above the United States on the report. Sure, Donald Trump has mused about investigating Amazon, whose owner also owns the Washington Post. Yes, he has sparred with and insulted reporters. But he hasn’t wielded fake guns aimed at the press, and he hasn’t ordered hitmen to kill reporters. And good grief—I’ve expressed my reservations about Trump and haven’t been his biggest backer, but I’ve never feared for my life or my ability to speak my mind.

Oddly enough, Reporters Without Borders has garnered criticism in the past over perceived bias in favor of the United States and Western Europe. But this is the Donald Trump era, and all bets are off. At the end of the day, we should be concerned with some of the things the president has had to say about the media, but it’s nearly impossible to believe that 44 nations have more press freedom than we do here in the States.