Reporters Without Borders

Press freedom in the US in 2010

Press freedom in the US in 2010

Published on Wednesday 5 January 2011. Updated on Thursday 10 March 2011.
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WHAT IS HAPPENING TODAY ?

United States : The Daniel Pearl Act is not enough

The United States retains the same position in the Reporters Without Borders index - (Satisfactory situation - 20th).

Although Reporters Without Borders welcomed the enactment of the Daniel Pearl Act in May 2010, requiring the State Department to list countries that threaten press freedoms and tolerate violence against journalists, several incidents over the past year raise questions about the government’s use of national security concerns to try to curb media access to issues of legitimate public interest.

The WikiLeaks release of a 2007 video of a US helicopter attack in Iraq that killed 12 people including two Reuters staff and the Pentagon’s decision to ban four journalists from military commissions at Guantanamo Bay a month later, although eventually reversed, highlighted the military’s perceived lack of transparency and inconsistencies in its compliance with to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Two weeks ago, in a new blow to the FOIA, the US Supreme Court refused to consider an appeal by 23 lawyers representing Guantanamo Bay detainees who want the National Security Agency to reveal whether it tapped their phone conversations with their clients and, if so, to provide them with transcripts.

"The Obama administration should back up its own talk on media rights. Signing the Daniel Pearl act is not enough to show its commitment to press freedom within the country", the organization said.

National security issues are also playing a role in the consideration of the Federal Shield Law legislation, which is being delayed by proposals to exclude whistleblowing websites from source protection. In large part a political reaction to WikiLeaks publishing over 70 000 classified Afghan war documents, such amendments would be, in Reporters Without Border’s opinion, unfair and unnecessary, as the legislation already contains exemptions relating to legitimate questions of national security.

Another area if concern is the role commercial interests played in controlling press coverage of the BP oil spill in the Gulf Coast. Many journalists complained that local law enforcement , BP and the Coast Guard exaggerated clean up and safety concerns to prevent reporters, especially photographers,from accessing public beaches. BP’s central role in relaying data about the spill and managing access to affected areas while at the same time standing to gain by limiting negative coverage of the disaster will hopefully lead to constructive debate on future measures necessary to ensure the public’s right to unbiased and accurate information during environmental catastrophes.

In January of 2010, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton reaffirmed the US’s commitment to protect the Internet as a place for social development and emphasized the importance equal access to knowledge and free exchange of ideas. However in August, Google and Verizon were reportedly nearing an agreement that could allow Verizon to relay online content to Internet users more quickly if the content’s creators are willing to pay for the privilege. Such an agreement would be a threat to net neutrality and the FCC has a responsibility to ensure commercial decisions do not infringe upon the free flow of information.

"President Obama initially promised to ensure respect of FOIA after taking office in January 2009, but his administration seems to have reversed its stance. The same phenomenon is happening with Net Neutrality and the Internet regulation.The Obama administration will risk seeing its record on press freedom slide back next year if these issues are not addressed seriously in 2011", said the press freedom organization.

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