Media Monopolies and Prosecution of Assange Drive Drop in US Press Freedom Rank

CODEPINK cofounder Medea Benjamin interrupted U.S. Secretary of State Antony Blinken at a Washington Post-sponsored World Press Freedom Day occasion on Could 3, taking the stage the place a Put up journalist was interviewing Blinken. Benjamin demanded that the U.S. and United Kingdom free imprisoned WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange.

A gaggle of males in fits, presumably Secret Service brokers, instantly charged onto the stage and forcibly eliminated Benjamin and one other activist who joined her. Blinken, nonetheless, failed to deal with both Assange’s persecution or the U.S.’s continued decline in press freedom after the disruption.

Assange faces extradition to the U.S. on Espionage Act costs for his function in publishing secret U.S. army paperwork, despite the fact that he collaborated with a number of main newspapers, together with The New 12 months Occasions, in exposing corruption and deception by U.S. authorities officers.

Benjamin’s protest befell shortly after Reporters With out Borders launched the brand new World Press Freedom Index on the gathering in a brief video presentation, revealing that the U.S. dropped in its rating from forty second in 2022, to forty fifth this 12 months. The drop continues the U.S.’s regular fall in its rating since at the least 2002, when it was ranked seventeenth on this planet by way of press freedom.

Worldwide, at the least seven media workers have been killed and 568 are at present being detained or imprisoned this 12 months. Reporters With out Borders and the Committee to Protect Journalists report that 2023 is on observe to change into the worst 12 months for reporters amid the rise of authoritarian regimes and democratic backsliding on press freedom protections. The United Nations celebrated the 30-year anniversary of its designation of Could 3 as World Press Freedom Day.

In keeping with Reporters Without Borders, nonetheless, the U.S. dropped three locations this 12 months as a result of “main structural boundaries to press freedom persist on this nation.” This criticism consists of the rise in prosecutions of whistleblowers like Assange who leak categorized paperwork within the public curiosity.

RWB’s new report attributed further components to the drop within the U.S. rating in press freedom, stating that “most of the underlying, power points impacting journalists remain unaddressed by the authorities — together with the disappearance of native information, the polarisation of the media or the weakening of journalism and democracy attributable to digital platforms and social networks.”

Reporters With out Borders additionally cited threats made towards U.S. journalists as a significant concern in its 2023 report, noting that “on-line harassment, significantly in the direction of ladies and minorities, can be a severe subject for journalists and may affect their high quality of life and security.” Final 12 months the U.S. was ranked quantity 72 on this planet in safety for journalists. In 2023, the nation dropped to the one hundred and twentieth rank.

One other main issue, nonetheless, is the continued consolidation of main media networks. Because the 2023 report on press freedom states, “any widespread information shops are owned by a handful of rich people.”

Media Monopolies

A small group of media firms and people proceed to dominate U.S. media markets, making it nearly inconceivable for independently or publicly funded media to compete. For instance, iHeart Media, previously generally known as Clear Channel, owns 855 radio stations in 160 markets. iHeart owns or streams programming for a lot of right-wing and conservative non secular stations throughout the nation.

Fox Broadcasting Firm owns 29 tv stations in 17 markets and has 227 affiliate stations.

Fox is a subsidiary of Fox Leisure which is itself a subsidiary of News Corporation Limited — a part of the billionaire media proprietor Rupert Murdoch’s household empire. Murdoch additionally controls dozens of main and regional newspapers, publications, magazines and radio stations around the globe.

Sinclair Broadcast Group owns 200 TV stations protecting greater than 40 p.c of households within the U.S. It additionally owns 20 regional sports activities cable networks, a handful of digital multicast networks, and an web streaming service.

Sinclair has been a significant promoter of conservative politics within the media, and OpenSecrets has documented the revolving door between authorities and lobbyists at Sinclair. Two out of three lobbyists have previously held authorities jobs. Some Sinclair-owned TV stations are additionally Fox associates.

Regardless of these rising company monopolies, Reporters With out Borders reviews that greater than 360 newsrooms have been shuttered within the U.S. since 2019 — most of them native information organizations and newspapers.

For instance, Seattle, like all different main U.S. cities, used to have a number of printed newspapers, together with the The Seattle Occasions, Seattle Star and Put up Intelligencer. However Seattle Star and Put up Intelligencer at the moment are online-only publications with a a lot smaller readership. From 1983 to 2009, The Seattle Occasions and the Put up Intelligencer have been below a joint operating agreement by the Seattle Occasions Firm. 145 jobs have been misplaced at Put up Intelligencer when it went on-line, and 150 editorial positions have been eradicated at The Seattle Occasions shortly earlier than that, in December 2008.

The Seattle Occasions is now the one main printed newspaper within the metropolis, having fun with an entire monopoly of the newspaper business regionally. Many giant cities at the moment are one-newspaper cities after years of downsizing, mergers and newspaper closures.

Doable Options

If the Federal Communications Fee (FCC) continues to cave to giant media firms and permit media monopolies to develop in measurement and energy, then there’s little hope for the viability of impartial and neighborhood media within the U.S. We want reforms that make sure the FCC is ready and prepared to implement antitrust laws.

We should demand elevated public funding to impartial non-corporate media; PBS and Nationwide Public Radio are simply not sufficient to supply the variety of opinion and illustration that’s required in a wholesome democratic society.

Native governments can go resolutions in help of the rights of journalists to be free from concentrating on and harassment by regulation enforcement companies. These resolutions would direct police departments to honor the rights of reporters, particularly those that are protecting civil unrest or political protests.

There are different legislative and public coverage initiatives which might assist enhance U.S. press freedom, together with federal protections for whistleblowers like Assange and new antitrust laws.

Rep. Jamie Raskin’s PRESS Act was handed within the Home however did not be authorized by the Senate. The invoice would supply a protect regulation to guard journalists from prosecution for refusing to disclose their sources. The U.S. at present has no federal protect regulation defending journalists from that form of prosecution. Raskin’s anti-SLAPP (“Strategic Lawsuits Against Public Participation”) bill, a separate piece of laws launched within the present legislative session, would additionally defend journalists from being sued after they report data very important to the general public curiosity.

Likewise, the Journalism Competition and Preservation Act, co-sponsored by Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minnesota), would enable small and impartial media shops to hitch collectively to barter for truthful compensation when tech giants like Google and Fb use them as information sources. The Seattle Occasions editorial board supports the bill.

The Local Journalism Sustainability Act, launched into the Home by Rep. Ann Kirkpatrick (D-Arizona), would give tax credit to native newspapers. It was launched in 2020 and once more in 2021 however was by no means voted on.

The U.S. should confront its issues with each press freedom and media consolidation. We might not have a state-controlled media, however our corporate-dominated media panorama and the shortage of rigorous press protections restrict variety of political beliefs and possession.

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