One Year Into The Biden Administration, RSF Calls For Redoubled White House Commitment To Improving Press Freedom
A full year after President Biden was sworn into office, Reporters Without Borders (RSF) expresses serious concern over the state of press freedom in the United States, and urges the White House and 117th Congress to redouble efforts to ensure the safety of journalists and the protection of press freedom at home and abroad.
Journalists in the US have faced an unprecedented pattern of First Amendment violations amid a climate of animosity and aggression. More than 50 journalists were arrested or detained on the job in the US in 2021 — a number which nearly equals the total number of journalists arrested in 2017, 2018 and 2019 combined, according to data from the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, an RSF partner organization.
“The ironclad assurance that journalists will be allowed to safely carry out their work in the US - once viewed as a safe haven for journalists - is slowly diminishing,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “We call on the Biden administration to use its second year in office to take concrete steps to restore the country’s drastically deteriorating press freedom record at home and reassert its role as a protector of the right to inform and human rights internationally. We appreciate the Biden administrations’ commitment to support journalism in the world, as stated during the last Summit for Democracy, but the US has to set an example internally.”
Press freedom conditions began declining swiftly during the Trump administration. In 2020, President Trump’s fourth year in office, a record-breaking number of journalists were arrested, in addition to 856 other types of aggressions committed against journalists – the majority of which were deliberate and unprovoked physical attacks on clearly identified reporters. The final days of the Trump administration were marked by an insurrection in Washington, D.C. in which five people were killed, and rioters damaged tens of thousands of dollars worth of media equipment owned by The Associated Press, smashed cameras while yelling “CNN sucks,” and scrawled the words, “Murder The Media” onto doors inside the Capitol Building.
President Biden signaled his administration's desire to see the US reclaim its global status as a beacon of free expression during the early days of his administration. On Inauguration Day, one year ago today, President Biden vowed to uphold an environment of truth on the steps of the recently stormed US Capitol Building. Soon thereafter, the Biden administration reinstated regular White House and federal agency press briefings. Formerly silenced officials were able to communicate accurate information about the pandemic to the American public. President Biden also stated that “a free press is essential to the health of democracy,” during his first major foreign policy address at the US Department of State.
Despite these welcome efforts, many of the underlying, chronic issues impacting journalists — from the disappearance of local news to a systemic polarization of the media, going through the weakening of journalism and democracy by digital platforms and social networks — remain largely unaddressed by the White House and Congress. As he faces possible life imprisonment for publishing information in the public interest, RSF continues to call on the Biden Department of Justice to drop the more than decade-long case against Wikileaks publisher Julian Assange once and for all, in line with its stated commitment to protecting media freedom. The perimeter of this prosecution clearly sets a precedent which is dangerous for journalism.
“After four years of President Trump regularly attacking reporters and undermining journalism, we applaud President Biden's renewed commitment to the free press, but it's time for rhetoric to turn to action," said RSF USA Deputy Director Clayton Weimers. "The free press and freedom of information remain imperiled in the US and around the world, and we look forward to working with the Biden Administration to strengthen the rights of journalists everywhere."
RSF continues to welcome opportunities to work with the legislative and executive branches of the US federal government to improve press freedom conditions in the US, and urges the White House to use its second year in office to work with Congress to secure concrete improvements on press freedom issues.
The US is ranked 45th out of 180 countries in RSF’s World Press Freedom Index.