Freedom of the Press - United States of America (2004)

Status: Free
Legal Environment: 3
Political Influences: 6
Economic Pressures: 4
Total Score: 13

Population: n/a
GNI/capita: n/a
Life Expectancy: 77
Religious Groups: Protestant (56 percent), Roman Catholic (28 percent), Jewish (2 percent), other (14 percent)
Ethnic Groups: White (77 percent), black (13 percent), Asian (4 percent), Amerindian (1.5 percent), Pacific Islander (0.3 percent), other (0.2 percent)
Capital: Washington, D. C.

The major challenges to press freedom were issues related to coverage of the war in Iraq, the subsequent turmoil that accompanied coalition occupation of that country, and the ongoing war on terrorism. The press in the United States benefits from a legal environment that has consistently supported journalists in their pursuit of stories, limited the right of public officials to deny journalistic access to information, and narrowed the grounds on which officials can bring libel cases against the press. After September 11, 2001, the federal government increased the volume of classified information, and the Bush administration has been less open to contact with the press and less forthcoming with information than most recent administrations. Nevertheless, the press enjoyed considerable latitude in its coverage of the invasion of Iraq. Many press outlets chose to cover the war through the process of "embedding," in which reporters were assigned to travel with units of the invading forces. Embedding became a controversial policy, as a number of media critics charged that it led to the manipulation of the press by the government. On the other hand, some editors contended that embedding gave reporters unique access to combat zones. Editors were also pleased that the government did not impose formal censorship during the invasion. In the postwar period, the press has provided detailed coverage of the violent resistance to the occupation of Iraq and the often-rancorous debate within Iraq over the nature of the future government. The United States continued to draw criticism for measures taken in the wake of September 11, 2001. During 2003, the government refused entry to or deported a number of foreign journalists. In several cases, the government justified its action on the grounds that the journalists were functioning as intelligence agents. In other cases, the foreign reporters ran afoul of tightened visa guidelines instituted after 9/11. An ongoing issue for media freedom in the United States is the question of whether purchase of media entities, especially television networks, by large corporations limits journalistic freedom. In June, the Federal Communications Commission issued a decision that would relax restrictions on the ability of newspapers to own broadcast media in the same geographical market. The decision triggered considerable controversy, with advocacy groups arguing that the new rules would contribute to an over-concentration of media ownership. The FCC rejected this contention, claiming that fears of media concentration are exaggerated in the age of the Internet and cable television. The new rules were under challenge in Congress at year's end, and suits have been filed in the federal courts to prevent their implementation.

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