U.S. Press Freedom Classified as 'Problematic' For First Time, but the Problem Is Deeper Than Donald Trump

The level of press freedom in the United States has been classified as "problematic" for the first time ever as the country's ranking dropped to 48th in the world, according to a global report from Reporters Without Borders released Thursday.

The organization attributed the decline in the U.S. to an "increasingly hostile climate that goes beyond Donald Trump's comments" and described an "intense climate of fear" among global journalists in its 2019 World Press Freedom Index report,.

Norway, Finland and Sweden earned the top three rankings in the report. Nicaragua, Tanzania and the Central African Republic witnessed precipitous rating drops, falling 24, 25 and 33 places, respectively. Malaysia and the Maldives both rose 22 places. Tunisia gained 25.

The report, which ranks 180 countries on freedom available to journalists, cautioned of "institutional attacks on the press in the U.S. and Canada" and highlighted President Trump's rhetoric toward the media. It noted the Capital Gazette newsroom shooting in June, in which a gunman killed five of the Annapolis, Maryland, paper's staff members, the pipe bomb threats from Cesar Sayoc, who sent 16 explosive devices to prominent Democrats and CNN offices, and allegations against a former Coast Guard lieutenant accused of stockpiling weapons to attack journalists and liberal politicians.

The report also mentioned the White House's temporary revocation of CNN reporter Jim Acosta's press pass, its decision to prevent CNN correspondent Kaitlin Collins from entering an open-press event, screening of journalists' electronic devices at the U.S.-Mexico border and financial challenges to the news industry.

The U.S.' drop to 48th was the third consecutive decline for the U.S. After a ranking rise in 2016. The U.S. fell from 41st to 43rd place in 2017 and from 43rd to 45th in 2018.

President Donald Trump gets into a heated exchange with CNN chief White House correspondent Jim Acosta during a post-election press conference in the East Room of the White House on November 7. JIM WATSON/AFP/Getty Images

The report expressed alarm about the global state of press freedom.

"If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger," RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said in the report. "Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history."

It noted that, among other concerns, "RSF registered a record number of arbitrary arrests and cases of violence by the Venezuelan police and intelligence services," El Salvadorian reporters were harassed and attacked, Morocco charged two prominent media figures with "condoning terrorism," "inciting terrorist acts" and "endangering state security" and that both Singapore and Cambodia were spreading censorship.

It also commented on the murder of Saudi columnist Jamal Khashoggi, who was killed inside the Saudi consulate in Istanbul in October, and reported that at least 10 journalists were murdered in Mexico in 2018, while six were killed in India.

The report mentioned the imprisonment of journalists in Egypt, Bahrain, Saudi Arabia, Iran and Turkey, while noting that "a degree of obscurity also reigns in Israel, where Palestinian journalists are kept in administrative detention for months on end without warrants and without clear charges at the time of their arrest."

U.S. Press Freedom Classified as 'Problematic' For First Time, but the Problem Is Deeper Than Donald Trump | U.S.