April 23, 2019

US – #WeeklyAddress: April 15 – 21: The US drops to 48th in World Press Freedom ranking, considered “problematic”

Below are the most notable incidents regarding threats to press freedom in the US during the week of April 15 – April 21:

The US drops to 48th in World Press Freedom ranking, considered “problematic”

The United States fell for the third consecutive year to 48th out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index, which was released on April 18. This is the first time the United States is considered a country with a “problematic” press freedom environment after being considered “satisfactory” in years past, with much of the decline attributed to the shooting at the Capital Gazette in Maryland in June 2018 that left four journalists and one other newspaper staffer dead. In addition, violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions. Read more on our analysis here.



Tennessee Highway troopers block reporters from covering protest

The Tennessee Highway Patrol threatened several reporters with arrest and blocked them from reporting on a sit-in protest outside Governor Bill Lee’s office in Nashville on April 16. The troopers told reporters to leave or face arrest, even after identifying themselves as members of the media and insisting they have historically had access to the Capitol building during these hours. One of the journalists, Natalie Allison of The Tennessean, detailed the encounter with troopers on her Twitter account, saying troopers threatened to arrest if they didn’t leave the building immediately. Chris Walker, communications director for the governor, later released a statement in which he said, "It is our understanding that Highway Patrol officers followed their standard protocol for when the Capitol building closes to the public. However, we do not condone threatening of arrest to reporters while they are doing their jobs in trying to cover news." Back in February, Tennessee Highway Patrol troopers also tried to block reporters’ access to a Capitol hallway protest.



Press blackout at the Pentagon

It has been more than 300 days since the last time an official from the Department of Defense held a televised news conference from the Pentagon, according to TIME Magazine. The last Pentagon on-camera press briefing was held on May 31, 2018. CNN’s Pentagon correspondent Barbara Starr attributes the “blackout” partly to the officials being “afraid of upsetting the President.” She added, “It’s the American public that’s not getting information.”  On April 4, Defense Department spokesman Charles Summers Jr. said, "I can't tell you why it's been so long but I know that we will go on camera and when we are ready to do that I will let you know.”



Mueller report shows White House misled the press

The special counsel’s report on Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election included revelations that the White House had knowingly misled the press and the public’s perception of accurate reporting. The report, published on April 18, revealed that Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had referred to her comments on former FBI Director James Comey as “a slip of the tongue” and said they were “not founded on anything.” In May 2017, Sanders said that "countless" FBI agents had told her they were grateful President Trump had fired Comey and made similar statements in the following days. The report also confirmed many of the stories written about Comey and Mueller that President Trump deemed “fake news” were accurate, including a piece by Washington Post columnist David Ignatius and three separate New York Times stories. Politico’s Dan Diamond shared a Twitter thread outlining the various occasions in which President Trump attempted to discredit these stories and outlets.



The United States ranks 48th out of 180 countries in RSF's 2019 World Press Freedom Index.



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