The United States plunged 14 places in the annual Press Freedom Index released by Reporters Without Borders on Wednesday. The group said it was "one of the most significant declines" in press freedom it had tracked during 2013.
The US in now ranked 46th on the RWB list, in between Romania and Haiti. It was ranked 32nd in the 2013 index. (Finland tops the entire list.)
The press freedom group was blunt in its explanation. It cited increased efforts to track down whistleblowers and the sources of leaks, mentioning Chelsea Manning and Edward Snowden in particular. It also condemned the Justice Department's surveillance of reporters, and the continued leak battle facing New York Times journalist James Risen.
"Both the US and UK authorities seem obsessed with hunting down whistleblowers instead of adopting legislation to rein in abusive surveillance practices that negate privacy, a democratic value cherished in both countries," the group wrote.
The decision by RWB to rank the UK 13 places higher than the US, at 33, drew a great deal of skepticism from many in the media:
UK being 13 above US in press freedom index isn't reality. US has far greater protections b/c of 1st amendment. http://t.co/B53c4cakRp
— Ryan Gallagher (@rj_gallagher) February 12, 2014
The US also came under fire from the Committee to Protect Journalists, which, in its annual Attacks on the Press report, said that press freedom had "dramatically deteriorated" in 2013.
The US was 20th on the list just a few years ago. It fell 27 places in the 2012 index thanks to the harassment and arrest of journalists covering Occupy Wall Street, before climbing 15 places in 2013.
Read the full RWB report here.