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American Reporters Not Totally Free on World Press Freedom Day

WEST LONG BRANCH, NJ–May 3 marks the United Nation’s annual World Press Freedom Day, which according to UNESCO is dedicated to reminding governments of their commitment to press freedom. The idea of “press freedom violations” typically calls to mind the plight of journalists in countries that are less developed half-way across the globe, but these violations are actually transpiring within our own freedom-ringing borders and affecting the reporters we rely on for news.
Most notably, in the wake of Freddie Gray’s death in Baltimore, Maryland, several reporters are feeling the brunt of these violations, having been beaten by police or detained without cause.
For example, in a recent article about the riots by the Poynter Institute, senior faculty Al Tompkins included information about a local press photographer who was thrown to the ground, beaten by police, and blocked from shooting pictures.
Meanwhile, the Guardian published a feature written by VICE reporter Shawn Carrié, who wrote about his experience not only being hit in the head with riot police’s plastic powder projectiles but also being arrested for no reason other than being a reporter.
“As a working member of the press, I was arrested on 27 April, just as Baltimore began to erupt, and detained for 49 hours before being released without charge,” said Carrié in his report after the fact. “A flurry of legal maneuvering, coupled with the fog of a state of emergency, meant that I and several others were deprived of our constitutional protections under the first, fourth, sixth, and eighth amendments.”

May 3 marks the United Nation's World Press Freedom Day.
May 3 marks the United Nation’s World Press Freedom Day.

Aside from the complete disregard by Baltimore authorities for his rights, Carrié also wrote about the squalid conditions of the jail, congested cell environment, and long wait times for water.
Students like Monmouth Oral Communication Center President Matthew Whille who study Communication within the walls of the Plangere building on campus are outraged by the blatant neglect of press freedom in Baltimore.
“A good reporter does the job of getting the truth out from an objective perspective,” said Whille. “To arrest that reporter eliminates that perspective and denies people of the full truth.”
Unfortunately, Baltimore is not the only U.S. city where journalists are experiencing the opposite of press freedom and inspiring the ire of students like Whille. Several New York-based publications saw their journalists face other challenges.
Vanity Fair reported that James Risen, a journalist associated with the New York Times, was threatened with jail time and endured a seven-year legal battle that only just recently ended—all for not disclosing the identity of his confidential source. At one point, his appeals were even denied by the Supreme Court.
In a series of tweets, Risen lamented the destruction of the First Amendment and pledged his life to rebuilding its integrity so that his son could live in a country where press freedom thrives.
The fact that 21st century journalists who are struggling to do their jobs in a country that extols freedom of the press is cause for concern, but it should not be surprising. For the past few years, the U.S. has taken a tumble in the ranks of the World Press Freedom Index. It currently sits in 49th place out of 108 countries.
Citizens can only hope that the “Land of the Free” will clean up its act considerably in time for next year’s World Press Freedom Day.