Two different pictures of US press freedom

Weapons of Mass DeceptionTrevor Cook writes in Corporate Engagement about a new study from World Economic Forum. The study ranks individual countries based on competetiveness and the Nordic countries are topping the tables along with USA.

As noted, the EU lags behind the US in the overall rankings, only Finland (ranked first) is ahead of the US. When you dig deeper into the different factors the countries are ranked on, Finland is number 1 in “Capacity for innovation”, with Sweden second. Denmark ranked first regarding “Freedom of the press”, Sweden second and the US ranked 7. US is number 1 in “Extent of Marketing” and Sweden is second in “Extent of branding”.

The question about press freedom in the US is quite interesting. As I wrote in a previous post, the Swedish Journalist Association has protested against the treatment of foreign journalists in the US, and Jay Rosen has a brilliant piece about how George W. Bush manouvres to dismantle the power of media by claiming that media no longer represent the public. I am also almost done reading the brilliant book Weapons of Mass Deception from PR Watch about the use of propaganda in the war against Iraq. It is an excellent overview of war time manipulation, not only of the public, but also of media. I hope to come back with more thoughts on this book.

Could it be that the constitutional rights to press freedom in the US are world class but that the authorities have ways to work around that? I don’t have enough insight to tell. If you take a look at the views of Reporters Without Borders, the picture isn’t as bright. They survey the opinions of journalists, researchers, jurists and human rights activists about respect for the freedom of the press, and they place the US on 31st place, just after Benin and Timor-Leste:

Special situation of the United States and Israel The ranking distinguishes behaviour at home and abroad in the cases of the United States and Israel. They are ranked in 31st and 44th positions respectively as regards respect for freedom of expression on their own territory, but they fall to the 135th and 146th positions as regards behaviour beyond their borders.

The Israeli army’s repeated abuses against journalists in the occupied territories and the US army’s responsibility in the death of several reporters during the war in Iraq constitute unacceptable behaviour by two nations that never stop stressing their commitment to freedom of expression.

The two rankings paints two totally different pictures about press freedom in the US. No matter who you choose to believe, bear in mind that the WEF members represent among other things the world’s 1,000 leading companies and they might just find it a tad more difficult to critize the world’s largest economy.

Ten grand for a Survivor spot

Media exposure has a high value and a spot in a reality show can be a gravy train to fame and fortune. And people are willing to invest heavily in a ticket to fame. A spot in the Danish version of Survivor (Expedition: Robinson) was auctioned off today. The winning bid stopped at more than 10,000 USD. Considering that participants from Swedish reality shows are supposedly making hundreds of thousands of dollars touring the country as guest bartenders, ten grand sounds like a bargain.

Big media fight back

Not only was Janet Jackson recently named the second most foolish American, only second to her own brother Michael, but her exposed nipple at the Super Bowl is sending shock waves through the American media industry. The FCC is cracking down on TV channels and radio stations, threatening with major fines or license revocations should they use bad language or show inappropriate body parts.

But many of the country’s media companies have finally decided the feds have gone too far. Viacom, Fox, RadioOne and other players are asking the FCC to loosen up on its rules. But big media is far from united in its requests. Question is, what does it take to get the other big players to react?

Freedom, what freedom?

Speaking of press freedom, the Secretary General of the International Federation of Journalists (IFJ), Aidan White, recently said that Belgium’s poor legal protection for journalists makes it “quite inappropriate” for it to host the EU institutions.

“It seems to me”, he said, “that for Belgium to be one of the worst countries in terms of legal protection at national level for protection of sources makes it quite inappropriate to be the centre of the European Union political institutions which are responsible for the legal and economic administration of a region of 25 countries”.

His comment was sparked by the fact that Hans-Martin Tillack – a correspondent for Stern – was arrested at his home on Friday 19 March and taken to his office where computer equipment, mobile phones and files were seized.

Back home in Sweden, Jan Scherman, the Managing Director of Sweden’s largest TV channel TV4 yesterday answered questions by the Committee on the Constitution regarding allegations that the Swedish Prime Minister Göran Persson in September 2002 threatened him. It was during the final weeks of the election campaign that Persson supposedly called Scherman to a meeting and threatened him with what would happen if TV4 did not change its “heavy investment” in a victory for the right wing parties.

Press freedom not a US custom

The Swedish Journalist Association (SJF) has sent a letter to the US Secretary of State Colin Powell in protest of the US Immigration Authorities’ treatment of foreign journalists. SJF claims that journalists have been treated as criminals, been imprisoned and denied contact with their countries’ embassies.

That reminds me of something I read in Dan Gillmor’s outline to his book Making the News.

The biggest governmental threats are outside the United States, of course, where governments and other powerful players routinely intimidate journalists, or worse. In addition, governments elsewhere are much more likely to control cyberspace. We’ll ask whether Making the News has a prayer of working in places where the First Amendment is viewed as a crazy American notion. (I’m optimistic.)

It’s easy to make fun of Americans’ ignorance about the world outside their own continent, but for anyone, even us who are not journalists, it becomes painfully obvious that we are all viewed upon as possible terrorists when we enter the US customs having to leave fingerprints and get our mug shots taken. Kudos to Brazil who had the guts to protest.