You might think that the United States is a pretty safe place to be a journalist. In nations such as China and Syria, independent journalists are often jailed and sometimes killed for doing their jobs. In the United States, such danger is not typical. But a recent report shows that the country is not a shining example of press freedom.
Reporters Without Borders, which monitors press freedom around the world, has been ranking at least 139 countries since 2002 on how well they protect journalists and allow them to do their jobs. The United States ranked 43rd of 180 nations this year. Two years ago its ranking was 49th, and in 2007 it was 48th. Only once in the past 15 years has the country ranked higher than 20th.
Why doesn’t the United States get top marks? The organization mentions several reasons. The Trump administration has blocked some journalists’ White House access. Reporters have been arrested while covering protests. The Obama administration pressured journalists to reveal sources of government “leaks,” or information that wasn’t intended to be made public. In 2013, government lawyers secretly took two months’ worth of phone records from Associated Press journalists. And the government has been slow or has sometimes refused to provide public information to reporters.
So as we mark World Press Freedom Day on Wednesday, we wanted to share your thoughts on whether the free-press guarantees in the Constitution were still important. We asked readers in grades four through eight to share their ideas.
Our winner is Jahnavi Dave, an eighth-grader from Burke, Virginia.
Jahnavi said she has studied freedom of the press in her civics class at Lake Braddock Secondary School. She reads the newspaper and watches world news on TV with her parents.
The 14-year-old wants to be an aerospace engineer when she grows up. In her essay, Jahnavi ties her interest in science and technology to freedom of the press.
“I read a lot about new technology,” Jahnavi said. “I always want to know if that’s true. I don’t want to think something is true and later find out that it’s not true. I feel that free press and technology go hand in hand.”
Jahnavi makes a compelling case for why we still need the protection for a free press that James Madison included in the First Amendment. For her winning essay, she will receive four tickets to the Newseum, along with a KidsPost T-shirt and other goodies. Here is her essay:
We may not know it, but history is being made right now, in this moment. From the change in power in government domestically, to the growing terror internationally, to the climate crisis being faced globally, we are part of an ever-changing society. As citizens and residents of the United States of America, it is important to be informed about everything going on around us. Without having knowledge about current problems, we cannot work together to solve them. Furthermore, the 21st century is an expeditious time, with new and rapid technological advances in medicine, space engineering, and other fields. Now more than ever, it is important for the free press to portray the world without any filters.
Freedom of the Press, or free press, is a one of the five First Amendment freedoms. Free press includes newspapers, news shows, and radio broadcasts, all of which have the right to gather and publish any true information. Government is a big example of where free press is important, especially in the 21st century. Some politicians may take advantage of the public by not telling the whole truth. The free press holds government officials accountable to the public so that all information is known and proper decisions can be made. Industrial and business growth is also another reason why free press is necessary. As we continue to find cures to diseases, explore the depths of space, and create revolutionizing technology, the free press needs to fact check and report to the public every detail to ensure safety and truth of the products being made.
Free press is a great gift given to us in the Bill of Rights. As we continue to build our economies, strengthen international relations, and pass legislation, the importance of free press cannot be underestimated.
If the Freedom of Press was not there, you may not realize it, but the world would seem and be very different. Newspapers would have no diversity in articles on the same subject, as every article on a certain topic would be what the powerful leaders want it to say. — Arihan Dixit, sixth grade, Ashburn, Virginia
If we didn’t have this freedom people wouldn’t know what is going on in the government or would get arrested for writing about the government if they weren’t pleased with the news. — Audrey Wang, fifth grade, Rockville, Maryland
I believe that free press is important because it ensures that citizens are getting the full story of any problem and not only what the government wants you to hear. — Tawj Tymus, sixth grade, Washington, D.C.