Press freedoms have declined in the United States and around the world as authoritarian governments and strongmen erode journalist protections, according to Reporters Without Borders’ 2017 World Press Freedom Index that was announced yesterday.

Compiled in partnership with The Washington Post and presented at the paper’s office, the report concludes that press freedoms around the world have reached a tipping point, with attacks on the media becoming common and the protection of journalists worsening in democracies. The United States in particular fell from 41st to 43rd in Reporters Without Borders’ ratings, now ranked behind France, the United Kingdom, Belize and Burkina Faso.

Norway, Sweden, Finland, Denmark and the Netherlands were in the top five nations for press freedom, based on analysis of opinion pluralism, media independence, transparency, infrastructure quality, legislative restrictions and general editorial environment.

Washington Post Managing Editor Cameron Barr said journalism faces a uniquely difficult time in modern history.

“This conversation comes at a complex time for journalism. Governments and non-state groups are restricting the ability for reporters to do their jobs, in some cases through the use of intimidation and violence,” Barr said in the event introduction. “Fake news is proliferating, making it harder for readers to discern what is truth and what is fiction. And just about anyone with access to the Internet can practice journalism, or claim to.”

Since the start of his presidential campaign, President Donald Trump has repeatedly attacked the news media in the United States, referring to major news outlets as “fake news” and labelling the press the “enemy of the American people” in a Feb. 17 tweet.

Presented by Reporters Without Borders’ North America Director Delphine Halgand, the event featured a conversation with a panel of journalists from Turkey, Syria and Canada, who discussed the state of press freedom around the globe.

Reporters Without Borders has published the World Press Freedom Index annually since 2002. The index measures the level of freedom of information in 180 countries and reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organizations and citizens enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by authorities to respect and protect this freedom.

The U.S. rank has varied significantly over the last decade, typically standing between the high 30s and 40s.

Halgand said the United States’ fall in rankings reflects dwindling media freedom and animosity from the government.

“This year’s index reflects a world in which attacks on the media have become commonplace, and strong men are on the rise. This index highlights the danger of a tipping point in the state of media freedom, especially in leading democracies,” Halgand said.

Reporters Without Borders listed the relationship between Trump and the media, as well as the lack of legal protection for journalists both at home and abroad, as the main reasons for this lower ranking.

“Despite the bleak outlook under Trump, it bears repeating that his predecessor left behind a flimsy legacy for press freedom and access to information,” Reporters Without Borders stated in their online report.

The Reporters Without Borders report emphasized the fact that American journalists are still not protected by a federal “shield law,” which would guarantee their right to protect their sources and other confidential work-related information. A number of states with better scores than the U.S. have shield laws, including France, the U.K. and Norway.

According to the Freedom Index Report, prolonged searches of journalists and their devices at the U.S. border have increased, with some foreign journalists being prevented from traveling to the United States. after covering sensitive topics such as Colombia’s insurgent Revolutionary Armed Forces or the Kurdish ethnic group in Syria, Turkey and Iraq.

For example, in Turkey, President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan has led a crackdown on journalists and dissidents, jailing 81 reporters in 2016 — more than any other country — according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Turkey ranks 155th out of 180 in the Reporters Without Borders report.

Prior to presenting the Freedom Index, Halgand called attention to the many journalists who have been persecuted and detained in conflict zones, including journalist and Georgetown graduate Austin Tice (SFS ’02), who went missing in Syria in 2012. Georgetown and the GULC Bar Association have provided aid and support to Tice’s family, and a group of students started a petition to urge former President Barack Obama free Tice last November.

“Here today, I am thinking especially of one American journalist. His name is Austin Tice. Thank you for not forgetting him, and for working with us to do everything possible to bring him home,” Halgand said.

Tice, a former Georgetown Law student and Marine Corps veteran, went missing in Syria in 2012 while working as a freelance journalist covering the conflict there for McClatchy Newspapers, The Washington Post, CBS and other media outlets. Reporters Without Borders believes that Tice is still alive, currently being held captive in the Middle East.

Reporters Without Borders launched a pro bono campaign to #FreeAustinTice in February 2015. This campaign, motivated by the nonprofit’s desire to raise awareness for captured journalists and assist their family members, encouraged supporters to sign a petition addressed to Obama and to spread awareness through social media. Supporters posted photos of themselves blindfolded on social media as part of The Blindfold Pledge, acknowledging Austin’s unanswered kidnapping.

According to Reporters Without Borders, the blindfold symbolizes the fact that when journalists are silenced, all people are all deprived of information.

Georgetown University journalism professor and former reporter for The Washington Post Athelia Knight attended the event and said she appreciated the mention of Tice.

“I am pleased that Austin Tice was mentioned in the opening remarks by Delphine Halgand. Clearly, he has not been forgotten by the world press,” Halgand said. “I hope he is released soon.”

Hoya Staff Writer Molly Cooke contributed reporting.

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