The U.S. ranks 41st out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders/Reporters Sans Frontières' (RSF) 2016 press freedom index, largely due to the government's "war on whistleblowers," mass surveillance, and the lack of a shield law for journalists that guarantees their right not to reveal sources or other confidential information.
That's despite the fact that the U.S. actually moved higher in the rankings this year, advancing from its previous position at 49th in 2015. Its "relative improvement by comparison hides overall negative trends," the organization stated in a press release accompanying the report.
Much of the criticism regards President Barack Obama's administration, as well as the crackdown on civil rights coverage during the Black Lives Matter protests that took place over the past two years.
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The group writes:
The main cause for concern for RSF continues to be the current administration’s obsessive control of information, which manifests itself through the war on whistleblowers and journalists’ sources, as well as the lack of government transparency, which reporters have continually criticized. The Obama administration has prosecuted more whistleblowers under the Espionage Act than all previous administrations combined. Jeffrey Sterling, a former CIA operative, was convicted solely on the basis of metadata in January 2015 of disclosing classified information to James Risen and is now serving a 3.5 year prison sentence.
[....] RSF is also still troubled by the arrest of journalists during #Blacklivesmatter protests in Baltimore and Minneapolis. "There is still room for improvement in the country of the First Amendment," says Delphine Halgand, RSF’s US Director.
RSF's annual report measures the level of press freedom worldwide using the following indicators: pluralism, media independence, media environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure, and abuses and acts of violence against journalists.