Rash of ‘Occupy’ arrests tank America’s annual press freedom score

By Stephen C. Webster
Thursday, January 26, 2012 14:48 EDT
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Police and reporters collide on Nov. 22, 2011, amid an "Occupy Wall Street" protest. Photo: Flickr user Palinopsia_Films.
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In the wide world of reporting, the nation of Finland is the very best place to be a journalist — or Norway (they’re tied for first). But in the United States, press freedoms are gradually sinking into the mire, and with them, so too goes the nation’s placement on the annual “Press Freedom Index” put together by Reporters Without Borders.

Because of the numerous reporters arrested by police forces across the country during the “Occupy Wall Street” protests in 2011, the group said that the U.S. fell 27 places on the list over 2010. The final damage: America placed 47th overall, just under Taiwan, Comoros, South Korea and Botswana. Even Ghana, Hungary and Niger received a better rating.

It wasn’t immediately clear how many journalists were harassed, abused or arrested for attempting to cover the protest movement, but reporter Josh Sterns estimates that the number was more than 50 if citizen journalists are counted among them. He noted that police, facing large crowds of angry protesters, have often decided it’s just easier to arrest everyone and figure out who’s who later on.

These tactics led to abuses much greater than just the trampling of press freedoms, such as an instance in San Diego where 50 arrestees were forced to wait in two police buses so long that some had to urinate and defecate on themselves.

It’s still a vast improvement over conditions for reporters in nations like Iran, Burma, Yemen, China, Syria or North Korea, which all placed in the lowest rungs on this year’s list. The country that came in dead last was Eritrea, the small African nation that broke away from Etheopia in the 1990s, which has made virtually all free expression illegal and any sort of activism a crime punishable by imprisonment. It came in last on the previous list as well.

“This year’s index finds the same group of countries at its head, countries such as Finland, Norway and Netherlands that respect basic freedoms,” Reporters Without Borders said. “This serves as a reminder that media independence can only be maintained in strong democracies and that democracy needs media freedom. It is worth noting the entry of Cape Verde and Namibia into the top twenty, two African countries where no attempts to obstruct the media were reported in 2011.”

Photo: Palinopsia_Films.

Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster
Stephen C. Webster is the senior editor of Raw Story, and is based out of Austin, Texas. He previously worked as the associate editor of The Lone Star Iconoclast in Crawford, Texas, where he covered state politics and the peace movement’s resurgence at the start of the Iraq war. Webster has also contributed to publications such as True/Slant, Austin Monthly, The Dallas Business Journal, The Dallas Morning News, Fort Worth Weekly, The News Connection and others. Follow him on Twitter at @StephenCWebster.
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