Despite Improvements, Troubling Vital Signs For Press Freedom Persist
The first 100 days of Joseph R. Biden’s presidency saw healthy improvements to government accountability and transparency. For example, the White House and government agencies reinstated regular press briefings from day one and authorities, who had previously been muzzled, were able to communicate accurate information about the COVID-19 pandemic to the American public. At his inauguration, Biden vowed to uphold an environment of truth and during his first, major foreign policy speech, the new president made a point of stating that “a free press is essential to the health of democracy,” signaling his administration's desire to see the U.S. reclaim its global status as a beacon of free expression.
As with any patient, however, while the most obvious symptoms of an ailing democracy may have cleared up, many chronic, underlying conditions -- from the disappearance of local news to the ongoing and widespread distrust of mainstream media -- remain. In fact, the situation worsened considerably during President Donald J. Trump’s final year in-office, which saw nearly 400 journalists assaulted and more than 130 detained -- unprecedented numbers according to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker (an RSF partner organisation). Many of 2020’s attacks and arrests of members of the media took place as they tried to cover the nationwide protests against systemic racism and police brutality towards people of color. Trump himself vilified bonafide news outfits as “fake news” and qualified award-winning journalists as the “enemy of the people,” feeding the the type of threatening behavior, including violence and the destruction of equipment, that journalists faced during the uprising against the US Capitol Building on 6 January 2021. As dozens of alleged insurrectionists face serious jail time for federal crimes, the erosion of trust in the American media and unchecked conspiracy theories that continue to flourish online will require a concerted effort by all - the public sector and private companies alike - to ensure that press freedom in the US runs more than just skin deep.
The Biden Department of Justice's decision to pursue an appeal against the extradition decision by a UK court in the case of Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange resulted in his continued detention in high-security Belmarsh prison, where his mental and physical health remain at risk. If the US government appeal is successful, Assange could face a possible lifetime in a US prison for publishing information in the public interest.
45 in 2020
23.85 in 2020