*Now 46th from previous 33rd in world rankings
The U.S. fell below El Salvador and Romania in the world press freedom rankings released on Wednesday.
The U.S. fell 13 positions to 46th place in this year’s World Press Freedom Index, which has been produced annually since 2002 by the Paris-based Reporters without Borders.
The fall has been attributed to an “overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs’’.
The organisation however said the main reason the U.S. dropped so far in the rankings was because of its dogged efforts to “track down whistle-blowers and the sources of leaks’’.
A report by the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) released simultaneously also condemned government surveillance, saying the practice poses a great threat to press freedom.
It said this is because the U.S. does not allow journalists to have privacy while doing investigative reporting or grant their sources anonymity.
The World Press Freedom Index said the whistle-blower had been made into the enemy.
“The trial of and conviction of Private Bradley Manning and the pursuit of National Security Agency (NSA) analyst Edward Snowden were warnings.
“They were warnings to all those thinking of assisting in the disclosure of sensitive information that will clearly be in the public interest,’’ the report said.
The index also cited the U.S. Department of Justice’s secret seizure of the Associated Press phone records as another example of “a disturbing retreat from democratic practices’’.
Britain also fell on the rankings, with analysts blaming it on “the disgraceful pressure’’ it put on the Guardian newspaper in relation to its stories on NSA surveillance.
Its detention of the partner of journalist Glenn Greenwald also counted against it.
The report said Britain’s ranking of 33rd was a drop of three positions.
“2013 will go down in history as the worst year for press freedom in the U.S.,’’ New York Times journalist James Risen said at a press conference introducing the index in Washington.
Risen, who has a case before the U.S. Supreme Court involving leaked information from a CIA officer, said the Obama administration is the “most aggressive anti-press administration in modern history.’’
Risen said in the report that the term “national security’’ offered the government an avenue to “justify anything’’.
Finland topped the index for the fourth year in a row as the country enjoys the most unfettered press freedom.
It was followed by Netherlands and Norway.
The bottom three countries on the list of 180 are Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.
Freedom of information is “non-existent’’ in those three nations, which “continue to be black holes and living hells for journalists who inhabit them,’’ the report said.
Armed conflict and political instability are major drivers of the deterioration of press freedom in many countries, the report says.
In Syria, which retains its 2013 rank of 177, approximately 130 professional and citizen-journalists were killed between March 2011 and December 2013.
Journalists are falling victims to both government and extremist rebel groups in Syria.
Central African Republic’s rank dropped 43 places to 109, primarily due to the violence afoot in that country.
Egypt’s rank too remained unchanged at 159.
Mohamed Morsi’s 2012 election led to an increase of abuses against journalists and an effort to bring media under Muslim Brotherhood control, according to the report.
However, the Egyptian army’s removal of Morsi from power last summer led to abuses not only against Egyptian journalists who supported Morsi, but to other journalists in the region.
The index reports that in the United Arab Emirates (UAE), ranked 118, down three places from 2013, the government arrested journalists and bloggers for alleged links to the Muslim Brotherhood.