Fencing in the fourth estate
“ … the land of the free, and the home of the brave.”
That, people, is America in a nutshell, right?
Or, at the very least, they’re the words we recite at the beginning of every Little League game or NASCAR race as part of our National Anthem. Yet, do we really understand their meaning? (This statement is mostly directed at Christina Aguilera. Way to ruin last year’s Super Bowl.) Would we really be able to recognize when our land of the free had started becoming, let’s just say, a little less free?
The latest Reporters Without Borders Press Freedom Index ranked the U.S. as 47th out of 179 countries ranked, for its freedom of the press in 2011. That’s a loss of 27 spaces from its 2010 ranking at 20th.
Hey, chin up, America. You weren’t the only country to take a belly flop into a pool of shame. You know which other countries also took a nosedive this year? Egypt and Bahrain, which fell 39 and 29 places, respectively, on the list.
Oh, great, we’re keeping pace with Egypt and Bahrain in loss of press freedom. These countries underwent — and are still undergoing — major revolutions in 2011.
What’s our excuse for such irrational and inexcusable treatment of journalists?
A bunch of unemployed hippies, armed only with their iPhones and cardboard picket signs, that’s what.
The Occupy movement is the major catalyst that has caused a police-induced hysteria that has turned coverage of the protests into grounds for a witch-hunt. Reporters covering the Occupy protests have been beaten, pepper-sprayed, tear-gassed and threatened with the removal of their press passes.
While Egypt dealt with Molotov cocktails and instating a government after overthrowing its dictator, the U.S. has its hands nearly full with worrying about how best to clean its dirty parks, filled with even dirtier protestors.
“Oh, OK, America. You go ahead and worry about that,” Egypt said. “I’m going to go put out some fires now.”
Journalism is essential to democracy. Sure, voting is a great privilege, but without the probing eyes of the press, a government could run unchecked as the public, uneducated on current events, had no idea about the issues which they were being asked to vote on.
Journalists are only doing their duty to this country when they investigate. Those same police officers subjecting Occupy reporters to brutality are probably the same ones who appreciatorily turned on Fox News after a long day of watering reporters with pepper-spray as if they were tending houseplants (after all, pepper-spray is essentially a food product. Maybe the police just thought the reporters were hungry? Well, in that case, no hard feelings). The very occupation that brought them their coverage of the race for the Republican nomination is the very one whose coverage of the Occupy movement they violently suppress.
So, sometimes the media is OK, but only when it’s not reporting on what you don’t feel like hearing about? I’m sorry, but that’s not how press freedom works.
Unbridled access to affairs of the nation is the difference between Finland and Eritrea — the former ranked No. 1 in press freedom, and the latter, last at No. 179.
Coincidentally, Freedom in the World, a yearly human rights survey conducted by the Freedom House, gave Finland the highest rating possible — a label of “free” with a 1 ranking under each category, while Eritrea received the lowest — a label of “not free” with a 7 ranking under each category.
Freedom of the press is considered a human right. By receiving the rank of 47th in a list of press freedom, we were essentially ranked 47th in availability of a certain necessary human right.
Is this OK, America? To accept that availability of certain human rights in our country have fallen to a sub-par level? (I mean, come on. Canada got 10th. Are we really going to let Canada beat us?)
We as a country need to understand our press freedom is at risk. Don’t get me wrong, I realize how lucky I am to live in a country where I am able to publish an opinion such as this. But that’s not enough. We, as American citizens, cannot accept inadequacy in our news. There is nothing more important to democracy in America than the American public’s ability to stay informed. The second we accept slipping press freedoms is the second we settle our country to mediocrity.
I mean, come on, 47th place?