Founded in 1985, Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF), also known as Reporters Without Borders, professes to be motivated by a profound devotion to freedom of expression. The organization has apparently done good work on behalf of journalists in countries like Cuba and China, where press freedom simply doesn't exist. But RSF also issues an annual Press Freedom Index – the latest was released just the other day – in which it purports to rank countries according to the degree of freedom their journalists enjoy. Let's just say that the list doesn't represent RSF at its finest.
As someone who frequently slams the New York Times, I'm glad to be able to say that Times reporter Andrew Rosenthal, writing about RSF's new list last week, summoned precisely the right word to describe it: "ridiculous." As Rosenthal put it: "Like US News & World Report with colleges, they freshen the list each year based on new developments, and – again like US News – they sometimes end up with a pecking-order that doesn't quite mesh with reality."
For example, on the new list, the United States comes in at #47, falling from #20 last year, purportedly because police officers have beaten and arrested journalists reporting on the Occupy Wall Street movement. One suspects that at least some of those whom RSF counts as mistreated journalists are bloggers who were taking active, and violent, part in them. Be that as it may, it turns out that Hungary was given a better ranking this year than the U.S., even though its news media are under government control. Rosenthal issues a challenge to RSF: "Can you find me a journalist who thinks he'd have a freer hand in Hungary than in the United States? I don't think so."