By: Lisa Hoover
Reporters without Borders recently released the 2020 World Press Freedom Index, which attempts to measure press freedoms worldwide. This year, they ranked the United States 45th out of 180 countries; up 3 spots from 48th in 2019. The US’s “global score,” calculated “from responses to a questionnaire in 20 languages that is completed by experts throughout the world, supported by a qualitative analysis,” is also down by 1.84 points. “The scores measure constraints and violations, so the higher the score, the worse the situation,” according to RWB. Our neighbor countries on the list include South Korea, Taiwan, Papua New Guinea, Senegal and Romania.
The summary for the US’s ranking notes the decrease in the number of “journalists arrested and assaulted” from last year, but overall does not paint a rosy picture of press freedom in the US. In particular, the report mentioned the March 2019 discovery that the US government was using a “secret database” to “track” journalists, activists and others who should be “stopped for questioning” at the US-Mexico border. It also referenced the charges against Julian Assange. The report also mentioned that the last daily televised press briefing led by a press secretary was in March 2019. This all sounds bad, but the United States is ultimately ranked as “fairly good” on the Index’s scale.
And, of course, it’s not just the press – censorship continues in library-land as well. ALA recently released the 2019 Top 10 Challenged Books list, and we continue to see challenges and requests for removals like those in an Alaskan school and in a public library in Phoenix. Meanwhile, COVID-19 has put the tension between free speech and mis-information front and center on social media. (Reporters Without Border’s index includes a page devoted to COVID-19 this year.) COVID-19 has also led to a rash of protests related to lock down orders, an expression of both the right to free speech and the right to assemble.
There’s a lot going on in the world of censorship and free speech, even within the United States. Some of it’s new, some of it’s a new twist on old issues. Some of it, like the Top 10 Banned Books, is a tradition.
The United States is doing well – better than most countries. But we can continue to do better. We can continue to push back against censorship of what others read. We can continue to chip away at misinformation and the lack of trust in the reliable press, both of which require education and awareness. Librarians are at the fore-front on these issues.
Especially in these challenging times, keep doing what you do best!
Reporters without Borders (2020) 2020 World Press Freedom Index. Rsf.org. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from https://rsf.org/en/ranking#
Reporters without Borders (2020) 2020 World Press Freedom Index: Entering a decisive decade for journalism, exacerbated by coronavirus. Rsf.org. Retrieved May 22, 2020 from https://rsf.org/en/2020-world-press-freedom-index-entering-decisive-decade-journalism-exacerbated-coronavirus
Lisa Hoover is a Public Services Librarian at Clarkson University and an Adjunct Professor in criminal justice at SUNY Canton. In addition to her MLS, Lisa holds a JD and an MA in political science. She began her career as an editor and then manager for a local news organization, adjunct teaching in her “spare time.” She teaches courses in criminal procedure, criminal law and constitutional law. She is passionate about 1st Amendment issues. She recently began her career as a librarian, starting at Clarkson University in June 2017 teaching information literacy sessions and offering reference services. Lisa and her husband Lee live in Norwood, New York with their cats Hercules, Pandora and Nyx and pug-mix Alexstrasza (Alex). Find her on Twitter @LisaHoover01.