The coronavirus pandemic is worsening global threats to press freedom, watchdog group Reporters Without Borders said Tuesday as it released its latest annual Press Freedom Index.
“The public health crisis provides authoritarian governments with an opportunity to implement the notorious ‘shock doctrine’—to take advantage of the fact that politics are on hold, the public is stunned and protests are out of the question, in order to impose measures that would be impossible in normal times,” Reporters Without Borders secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in a statement.
The 2020 global analysis from the group, known by its French acronym, RSF, put Norway at the top of the index—the fourth year in a row it’s had the honour of being named the freest country in the world for the press.
The United States ranked 45, an improvement from the 48th spot the country had on the 2019 index. But the U.S. still came in for criticism by RSF, with the group saying that in the Americas, the U.S. and Brazil “are becoming models of hostility towards the media.”
“Press freedom in the United States continued to suffer during President Donald Trump’s third year in office,” said RSF, citing ongoing “[a]rrests, physical assaults, public denigration, and the harassment of journalists.”
Thanks to the Trump team, the “United States is no longer a champion of press freedom at home or abroad,” RSF added. The index cites as examples the White House’s curtailing of journalists’ ability to question the administration, including by denying press access to specific journalists or outlets and the Justice Department’s indictment of Wikileaks founder Julian Assange with 17 counts under the Espionage Act. If Assange is convicted, RSF said, it risks setting “a dangerous precedent for journalists who publish classified U.S. government information of public interest moving forward.”
RSF pointed to five crises—geopolitical, technological, democratic, trust, and economic—that stand to affect how press freedom fares in the next decade.
“The coronavirus pandemic illustrates the negative factors threatening the right to reliable information, and is itself an exacerbating factor,” Deloire added in his statement.
“What will freedom of information, pluralism and reliability look like in 2030?” he said. “The answer to that question is being determined today.”