Lack of Press Freedom Shields “Reporters Without Borders” From Exposure

By Joe Emersberger – HaitiAnalysis

Reporters Without Borders (RSF), the press freedom watchdog, is a fraud. You can find people who say this in small non-corporate outlets, and who provide slam dunk evidence for that harsh assessment.

However, the corporate media in English speaking countries has been routinely citing RSF’s Press Freedom Index as if it were irrefutable evidence that the Correa government in Ecuador  (and even more so the Chavez government in Venezuela) has been “cracking down” on press freedom.

RSF’s Press Freedom index was cited in the Newstatesman by “legal correspondent” David Allen Green in an attempt debunk the “legal myth” (how it’s a “legal” myth I’ll leave others to unravel) that by “giving Assange asylum, Ecuador is protecting freedom of the press”.

An Australian television “journalist” berated Julian Assange’s mother, Christine, and demanded to know if her son would be fighting for press freedom in Ecuador if he should ever arrive there.

Predictably, the interviewer mentioned RSF’s assessment of Ecuador (along with a few other NGOs like Human Rights Watch). Christine Assange more than held her own, in my opinion, in the face of hostile questioning, but I wish she would have replied to the Aussie journalist as follows:

“Did the Western media accuse Chinese activist Chen Guangcheng of hypocrisy for seeking asylum in the US embassy? Any Aussie or US journalists out there demanding that Chen start aggressively campaigning for the US government to shut down Gitmo, put a stop to drone strikes, free Bradley Manning, renounce foreign invasions and extra-judicial executions of its own citizens etc…?”

Christine Assange did stop her interrogator in her tracks a few times by asking a few simple questions that revealed the “journalist” had done scant research on Julian Assange’s case or Ecuador or the NGOs such as RSF whom the interviewer, like countless others, lazily assume reliable about Ecuador.  Christine Assange did touch on the fact that these NGOs were unreliable, but the most damning truths about RSF and other NGOs would be a huge challenge to present coherently within the constraints of concision required in a TV interview. I should add that I believe Christine Assange did much better during that TV interview than I ever could have.  There is a world of difference between written and oral debate, never mind oral debate on television before a huge audience against a journalist who is on camera on daily basis. 

Experience aside, what if Christine Assange had stated this?

“RSF applauded the 2004 coup in Haiti as a victory for press freedom.  Between 2004 to 2006, a UN installed dictatorship and its paramilitary allies perpetrated at least 4000 political killings according to a study published in the Lancet Medical Journal. Haiti’s Press baron’s openly agitated for a coup against Haiti’s democratically elected government for years before it finally took place. RSF helped those press barons out by making ridiculous allegations that the Aristide government was cracking down on dissent. But when a very real and bloody crackdown took place in Haiti, RSF cheerfully reported that 

‘Changes of ruler are sometimes good for press freedom, as in the case of Haiti, which has risen from 125th to 87th place in two years after the flight into exile of President Jean-Bertrand Aristide in early 2004. Several murders of journalists remain unpunished but violence against the media has abated.’”

Forget that it’s very unlikely Christine Assange could have said all that without being interrupted. Even if allowed to speak uninterrupted, the reaction of most television viewers would have been something like

“What coup in Haiti? Wasn’t there an earthquake there recently?”

That would have been the quite understandable reaction of most Canadian and US viewers despite the fact that US troops actually perpetrated the coup by whisking Aristide off to the Central African Republic in the middle of night on February 29, 2004 while Canadian troops secured Haiti’s international airport.

Canada has consistently ranked very high on RSF’s Press freedom Index. It’s presently ranked number 10 out of roughly 200 countries that RSF monitors. I’ve gone over in detail how effectively Canada’s corporate media has buried Canada’s criminal role in Haiti . That fact alone makes a joke of Canada’s high ranking:

If press barons in Canada have very little to fear from the government, it is primarily because the reverse of that is also true. The lack of real press freedom in countries like Canada leaves most people unaware of how private media and government elites work together to stifle public debate. It also leaves the public unaware of how much more combative the private media is within many countries that RSF has, outlandishly, labeled as being bottom feeders when it comes to press freedom.

In Ecuador, Correa was briefly taken hostage inside a police hospital by rebellious police in 2010.  Correa later won a libel suit against El Universo, one of Ecuador’s largest newspapers, for running an op-ed that called him a “dictator” who was guilty of “crimes against humanity” for having ordered an assault on “innocent civilians” to break him out of the hospital.  Would such an op-ed in a very high profile outlet appear in Canada under similar circumstances? Judging by the Canadian corporate media’s hostility to non-violent student protectors in Quebec,

I think we can safely assume that high profile corporate pundits would not libel a Prime Minster who had been taken hostage by armed students. It is also worth noting that very recent op-eds in Ecuador show that El Universo has hardly gone soft on Correa. [1] 

Similarly in Venezuela, in 2002 a private media led coup deposed Venezuela’s democratically elected president, Hugo Chavez for 2 days.  The coup was reversed thanks to massive street protests and a loyalist sector of the military. However, after the coup had briefly succeeded, the perpetrators openly thanked the private media for their decisive help in pulling it off. Vice-Admiral Ramirez Perez told a Venezuelan reporter:

“We had a deadly weapon: the media. And now that I have the opportunity, let me congratulate you.”

Preposterously, Venezuela was ranked 77th according to RSF’s Press Freedom Index in the year that media led coup took place. Canada was ranked 5th.,297.html

If the facts about the 2002 coup in Venezuela were widely known, or about the 2004 coup in Haiti, RSF’s Press Freedom Index would quite widely and rightfully be dismissed as worthless.

While RSF applauded the successful 2004 coup and subsequent bloodbath in Haiti as a huge step forward for press freedom, the unsuccessful coup in Venezuela resulted in a quite different assessment. Chavez moved to loosen the private media’s stranglehold on public debate (something any believer in meaningful press freedom and democracy should applaud even if some of his tactics can be reasonably criticized). RSF responded by making Venezuela ludicrously low ranking even lower. While the Venezuelan private media is today less capable of leading a coup, it has certainly not been cowed into submission.  Thanks to Wikileaks, we know that US officials in Venezuela regularly scour the private media’s relentlessly hostile reports about the Chavez government.

A real press freedom group would be calling for democratization for the media. Groups like FAIR and Media Lens, that do that, are not uncritically cited as sources by corporate journalists – quite the contrary.,,1800328,00.html

If the corporate media is so widely enamored with and uncritical of a supposed press freedom watchdog, that fact alone should make us all wonder what kind of “watchdog” it really is.

[1] Below are very recent op-eds found in in El Universo after a quick and very far from exhaustive search. I just translate the title and give the gist of the op-ed. Readers can translate for themselves on Google Translate if they want to verify what I say about the op-ed:

Assange y el Derecho Internacional (Assange and international Law — blasts Correa’s record on Press freedom citing Human RightS Watch and several other NGOs – says giving Assange asylum is an effort to cover up that poor record.)

Assange no es nadie (Assange is Nobody – moans about the irrelevance of Assange and Wikileaks and about how unhealthy it is that a fugitive gets unwarranted attention rather than deserving people whom author suggests are “scientists, thinks and spiritual leaders”.)

El imposible aprendizaje (The Impossible Apprenticeship – theatrical op-ed celebrating El Universo’s supposedly courageous defiance of Correa. )