May 7, 2024 - Business

U.S. press freedoms fall to new low

A step chart that displays the U.S. World Press Freedom ranking from 2015 to 2024, where the lower the number the greater the press freedom. In 2024, the U.S. dropped to 55 out of the 180 included countries.
Data: Reporters Without Borders; Chart: Danielle Alberti/Axios

Press freedom in the U.S. has fallen significantly in the past year, thanks in part to consolidation that has gutted local news and forced corporations to prioritize profits over public service, according to this year's annual Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Why it matters: Once considered a bastion for free expression, the U.S. is now on par with developing countries that have few resources or protections dedicated to journalism, including Belize, Ivory Coast and Ghana.

  • The ranking also calls out unprecedented levels of distrust in American media, stemming in part from economic challenges to the industry and also from political polarization.
  • The Trump era brought historic levels of division in media trust between parties that the Biden era has been unable to recover from.
A line chart shows confidence in mass media by U.S. political party affiliation, annually from 1997 to 2023. The September 2023 survey found that 58% of Democrats surveyed said they have a great deal or fair amount of trust in media, while 11% of Republicans said the same. 29% of Independents said they trust the media. Across all three parties, trust is down from a high in 2017.
Data: Gallup; Map: Deena Zaidi/Axios Visuals

Zoom out: Press freedoms are backsliding globally as autocrats use new laws to crack down on independent journalism, mostly under the guise of national security.

  • Efforts to undermine press freedoms in Democracies like Israel and India underscore how fragile protections for journalism have become in democracies around the world.

Yes, but: New elections have the potential to help offset some of those trends.

  • Poland, for example, climbed 10 points in this year's press freedom index following the opposition party's 2023 victory, which ended eight years of media manipulation by the Law and Justice party.

What to watch: In the U.S., tensions between law enforcement and the press at the local level continue to hamper press freedoms.

  • Since the beginning of the Israel-Hamas war, Reporters Without Borders estimates that at least eight journalists have been arrested or detained at protests and 18 have been assaulted, including six student journalists.
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