The year 2014 saw more regression than progress in the cause of press freedom and transparency, according to a year-end review by the National Press Club’s Press Freedom Committee.
“While December saw flickers of progress for press freedom, the year mostly saw backsliding worldwide,” said NPC President Myron Belkind. “Let’s hope 2015 brings more respect for human rights in general and in particular for the right of the press to report freely on what people everywhere need to know.”
On the plus side, the Justice Department decided in December it would stop its long campaign to force New York Times reporter James Risen to reveal a confidential source. That same month, an appellate court overturned a lower court ruling that would have forced Joseph Hosey, a Patch.com reporter in Illinois, to identify an anonymous source. The National Press Club had honored both men with John Aubuchon Press Freedom Awards.
However, that positive end to 2014 should not belie how repression of journalism only grew in 2014.
Consider, first of all, that 66 journalists were killed as they merely did their jobs, according to Reporters Without Borders. The Islamic State’s beheading of James Foley and Steven Sotloff were two of the more gruesome and notorious cases, but there were so many others.
In addition, 119 journalists were kidnapped and 178 imprisoned, Reporters Without Borders found. China and Iran continue to lead the world in the jailing and mistreatment of reporters. But American allies, too, have drawn criticism for assaults on the press. Turkey has cracked down on free expression and recently detained numerous journalists with seemingly trumped up allegations. Egypt still holds three Al Jazeera journalists in jail, among other reporter detainees. U.S. freelancer Austin Tice has been detained in Syria since 2012.
In Venezuela, Ecuador and elsewhere in Latin America, governments are directly blocking newspapers from doing their jobs by restricting access to newsprint, for example. Such tactics are in many cases technically legal, but journalists cannot challenge the laws in court in those countries where the judiciary is not truly independent.
And reporters everywhere–including in America–need to be ever more mindful of protecting their digital communications from potential eavesdropping by governments and others.