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Free press key to democracy

Published: Wednesday, February 1, 2012

Updated: Thursday, February 2, 2012 17:02

Widespread social unrest around the globe over the past year led to the arrests of numerous journalists trying to cover protests like the Occupy movement and the revolutions like the one seen in Egypt.

A report released earlier this month by Reporters Without Borders highlights the growing tension between governments and journalists who are often targeted alongside protestors when trying to cover the news – simply doing their jobs. The United States dropped an astonishing 27 spots on the Press Freedom Index, an annual report by the group "which assesses governments' commitment to protecting media freedoms," according to the Daily Mail.

The U.S., a country that traditionally cherished press freedom as one of its core liberties, has dropped to 47 on the list, right behind Comoros and Taiwan. The group cited crackdowns on reporters covering the Occupy Wall Street protests as a main reason for our country's descent on the list.

In Oakland, Calif., over the weekend, several reporters were arrested for covering the Occupy Oakland event, which involved police clad in riot gear and the mass arrest of some 400 protestors. Journalists from local publications like the San Francisco Chronicle, Mother Jones and The East Bay Express were detained by law enforcement despite having press credentials, according to a post on the SF Weekly's blog The Snitch.

In a story on Mother Jones, Gavin Aronsen recounted being kettled along with soon-to-be-arrested protestors by a line of police officers after showing his press credentials to no avail. Aronsen said one officer appeared ready to release him as he waited in line to be processed, "until a nearby officer piped in, without explanation: ‘He's getting arrested.'"

The arrests of journalists like Aronsen and others trying to report on the Occupy protests should not be tolerated in a country that prides itself on democracy and the free flow of ideas and information. The suppression of the media's ability to do their job during times like this is inexcusable.

After all, a government that is truly of the people and by the people should have no reason to clamp down on media coverage.

"Never has freedom of information been so closely associated with democracy. Never have journalists, through their reporting, vexed the enemies of freedom so much," Reporters Without Borders said in a statement quoted in the Daily Mail.

As the American people become increasingly discontent and disconnected with their government, free press will be a vital tool to spread information that can help address problems facing our society and set an example for other countries experiencing similar strife. The media's capacity to give voice to pro-democracy movements like the Arab Spring or protests in China cannot be quelled by the horrible job of exemplifying press freedom here at home. The U.S. must set a shining example for press freedom abroad.

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