Reporters Without Borders released its annual Press Freedom Index today.
The good news: the United States moved up 12 points from last year. (A higher ranking indicates more press freedom.) The bad news: we're still only #36 out of the 173 countries indexed.
RWB explains in its methodology (found here as a PDF) that press freedom is measured by several factors, including the frequency with which journalists are murdered, imprisoned, or threatened; how often the news media is censored; whether those who infringe press freedoms tend to be punished for their actions; and the degree to which a country's press self-censors.
Here's RWB's explanation of why the U.S. did better this year, but still not well enough to write home about:
The United States rose twelve places to 36th position. The release of Al-Jazeera cameraman Sami Al-Haj after six years in the Guantanamo Bay military base contributed to this improvement. Although the absence of a federal “shield law” means the confidentiality of sources is still threatened by federal courts, the number of journalists being subpoenaed or forced to reveal their sources has declined in recent months and none has been sent to prison. But the August 2007 murder of Oakland Post editor Chauncey Bailey in Oakland, California, is still unpunished a year later. The way the investigation into his murder has become enmeshed in local conflicts of interest and the lack of federal judicial intervention also help to explain why the United States did not get a higher ranking. Account was also taken of the many arrests of journalists during the Democratic and Republican conventions.