Despite constitutional protections, press freedom in the United States is declining under the reign of "media-bashing enthusiast" President Donald Trump, which seems to have global repercussions, according to an international watchdog's new analysis.
For the second straight year, the United States dropped two spots, and now ranks 45th on the latest World Press Freedom Index, published annually by Reporters San Frontières—also known as RSF, or Reporters Without Borders.
— RSF (@RSF_inter) April 25, 2018
The index's release comes amid mounting warnings about the dangers of Trump's attacks on the news media, which he has called "the enemy of the American people." In January, the president unveiled his so-called Fake News Awards—a stunt that was widely ridiculed by journalists and free speech advocates, who said: "We laugh about the #FakeNewsAwards but it is in fact quite terrifying and chilling. This is what happens in dictatorships and fascist regimes."
In a series of posts published alongside the index, RSF explained: "The U.S.'s decline in press freedom is not simply bad news for journalists working inside the country; the downward trend has drastic consequences at the international level. 'Fake news' is now a trademark excuse for media repression, in both democratic and authoritarian regimes."
"When foreign leaders see the U.S. president denounce the media on a regular basis, it gives them free rein to do the same," Margaux Ewen, RSF's North America director, told the Washington Post. "We see it in authoritarian countries, but alarmingly we also see the impact in democratic ones, too."
As RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire put it, "The unleashing of hatred towards journalists is one of the worst threats to democracies."
"Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility," Deloire added, "because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda."
In Europe, researchers found that the rise of right-wing populist politics and "strongman" leaders is turning the continent "into a crisis region for journalists."
Four of this year's 5 biggest falls in the @RSF #PressFreedom Index are in Europe.#Malta (down 18 to 65th)#CzechRepublic (down 11 to 34th)#Serbia (down 10 to 76th)#Slovakia (down 10 to 27)#Turkey has dropped 2 places to 157th out of 180 countries. #RSFIndex #FreeTurkeyMedia pic.twitter.com/oYPcqd3AtK
— Stefan Simanowitz (@StefSimanowitz) April 25, 2018
While press freedom in the U.S. and various European nations has continued to fall in recent years, Scandinavian nations have dominated the index's top spots. This year, Norway ranked first, followed by Sweden, and both Finland and Denmark made the top ten.
"Although traditionally respectful of press freedom, the Nordic countries have also been affected by the overall decline," RSF acknowledged. "Undermined by a case threatening the confidentiality of a journalist's sources, Finland (down one at 4th) has fallen for the second year running."
Vietnam, China, and Syria ranked among the nations with the worst press freedom, and Ewen said Wednesday that "China is the world's biggest prison for journalists."
The same 3 countries rank last in the #RSFIndex, and their scores have worsened. #Turkmenistan ranks 178, #Eritrea ranks 179, #NorthKorea is last at 180. The leaders of these countries continue to threaten, persecute, & silence journalists creating a climate of fear & oppression
— RSF in English (@RSF_en) April 25, 2018
RSF's findings were presented at an event on Wednesday, which was livestreamed in partnership with the Post.