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U.S. Labeled ‘Problematic’ Place for Journalists

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  • Reporters Without Borders dropped the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180 countries on its annual World Press Freedom Index.
  • The ranking is three places lower than it was last year, changing the U.S. label from “satisfactory” to “problematic.”
  • The Index states that increased threats against journalists in the U.S. are becoming more normalized.
  • The report specifically cites the U.S. ranking as “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”

World Press Freedom Index

The United States has been ranked as a “problematic” place for journalists, as the threats they face continue to become more standard, according to a new report about press freedom.

The 2019 World Press Freedom Index, an annual report compiled by Reporters Sans Frontières (RSF) or Reporters Without Borders (RWB), downgraded the U.S. to No. 48 out of 180. The ranking is three spots lower than its place last year.

The downgrade officially changes the press freedom status of the U.S. from “satisfactory” to “problematic,” marking the first time the country has received that label.

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“Never before have US journalists been subjected to so many death threats or turned so often to private security firms for protection,” the report said.

According to the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker, 10 journalists have faced physical attacks this year, and 46 journalists were physically attacked in 2017.

The World Press Freedom Index report also cited the five journalists who were shot and killed at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland last June. The attack was carried out by a man who had threatened the publication for years before the attack.

The report also cited the murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi in the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey last October.

Trump’s Involvement

The section of the report on North America specifically stated that the drop in rankings was “marred by the effects of President Donald Trump’s second year in office.”

“Amid one of the American journalism community’s darkest moments,” the report said.“President Trump continued to spout his notorious anti-press rhetoric, disparaging and attacking the media at a national level.”

Since being elected, Trump has referred to journalists as the “enemy of the American people,” and continuously accused nearly every mainstream media outlet of reporting “fake news.” He has also commended violence against journalists, like giving praise to a GOP congressman who assaulted a reporter in 2017.

According to the report, Trump has also called for the revocation of broadcasting licenses and attempted to block certain media outlets from access to the White House. In November, the Trump administration was forced to restore the press credentials of a CNN reporter that had been stripped of his pass after a heated exchange with Trump.

Back in August, United Nations human rights leaders stated that Trump’s attacks have undermined press freedom, and increase the risk of violence against journalists.

“The president’s relentless attacks against the press has created an environment where verbal, physical and online threats and assault against journalists are becoming normalized,” RSF Interim Executive Director Sabine Dolan told NPR.

Other Findings

The Index also found that the Americas has experienced “the greatest deterioration” in its press freedom regional score.

This is not just because of the United States. The report also cited instances in Brazil, where journalists have been targeted by supporters of President Jair Bolsonaro “both physically and online.” Experts often noted that Bolsonaro uses the same “fake news” refrain to discrediting negative media about him.

The report also stated that Mexico is one of the world’s deadliest countries for journalists, noting that “at least ten journalists were murdered in 2018.”

RSF identified North Korea and Turkmenistan as the most dangerous countries for the media, stating that their governments control the flow of information and censor journalists who defy them by using tactics including arrest, torture or killing.

In contrast, Norway ranked as the safest country, a title it has held for the past three years. Finland received second place.

Only 24 percent of the 180 countries in the report were given the rank of being “safe” or “satisfactory” for the press. This is lower than the 2018 Index, which gave 26 percent of countries “safe” or “satisfactory” rankings.


Source: 2019 World Press Freedom Index

“If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” said RSF Secretary-General Christophe Deloire. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”

See what others are saying: (NPR) (Time) (CNN)

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SAT Drops Subject Tests and Optional Essay Section

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  • The College Board will discontinue SAT subject tests effective immediately and will scrap the optional essay section in June. 
  • The organization cited the coronavirus pandemic as part of the reason for accelerating these changes.
  • Regarding subject tests, the College Board said the other half of the decision rested on the fact that Advanced Placement tests are now more accessible to low-income students and students of color, making subject tests unnecessary. 
  • It also said it plans to launch a digital version of the SAT in the near future, despite failing to implement such a plan last year after a previous announcement.

College Board Ends Subject Tests and Optional Essay

College Board announced Tuesday that it will scrap the SAT’s optional essay section, as well as subject tests.

Officials at the organization cited the COVID-19 pandemic as part of the reason for these changes, saying is has “accelerated a process already underway at the College Board to simplify our work and reduce demands on students.”

The decision was also made in part because Advanced Placement tests, which College Board also administers, are now available to more low-income students and students of color. Thus, College Board has said this makes SAT subject tests unnecessary. 

While subject tests will be phased out for international students, they have been discontinued effective immediately in the U.S. 

Regarding the optional essay, College Board said high school students are now able to express their writing skills in a variety of ways, a factor which has made the essay section less necessary.

With several exceptions, it will be discontinued in June.

The Board Will Implement an Online SAT Test

In its announcement, College Board also said it plans to launch a revised version of the SAT that’s aimed at making it “more flexible” and “streamlined” for students to take the test online.

In April 2020, College Board announced it would be launching a digital SAT test in the fall if schools didn’t reopen. The College Board then backtracked on its plans for a digital test in June, before many schools even decided they would remain closed.

According to College Board, technological challenges led to the decision to postpone that plan.

For now, no other details about the current plan have been released, though more are expected to be revealed in April. 

See what others are saying: (The Washington Post) (NPR) (The New York Times)

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Biden To Block Trump’s Order Lifting COVID-19 Travel Ban

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  • President Trump issued an executive order Monday lifting a ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil. 
  • Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when the CDC will start requiring all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.
  • The move was cheered by the travel industry; however, incoming White House press secretary Jennifer Psaki warned that Biden’s administration does not intend to lift the travel restrictions. 

Trump Order End To COVID-19 Travel Ban

President Donald Trump issued an executive order Monday ending his administration’s ban on travelers from the Schengen area of Europe, the U.K., Ireland, and Brazil.

That ban was put in place last spring in an effort to curb the spread of coronavirus in the U.S. In his announcement, however, Trump said the policy will no longer be needed starting Jan. 26, when new rules from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention go into effect.

Starting that day, the CDC will require all passengers from abroad to present proof of a negative coronavirus test before boarding a flight.

The recommendation to lift the ban reportedly came from Alex Azar, the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services. According to Trump’s proclamation, “the Secretary reports high confidence that these jurisdictions will cooperate with the United States in the implementation of CDC’s January 12, 2021, order and that tests administered there will yield accurate results.”

It’s worth noting that the ban will stay in place for travelers from Iran and China. Still, Trump’s announcement was generally cheered by members of the travel industry who have been pushing to lift the ban and require preflight testing instead. 

Biden To Block Trump’s Order

Soon after the news broke, the incoming White House press secretary for President-elect Joe Biden, Jennifer Psaki, warned that Biden would block Trump’s order.

“With the pandemic worsening, and more contagious variants emerging around the world, this is not the time to be lifting restrictions on international travel,” she wrote on Twitter.

“On the advice of our medical team, the Administration does not intend to lift these restrictions on 1/26.  In fact, we plan to strengthen public health measures around international travel in order to further mitigate the spread of COVID-19,” she added.

With that, it seems unlikely that Trump’s order will actually take effect. 

It’s also worth noting that this is one of many executive orders Trump has issued just before inauguration day.

Source: Whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions

Some of these orders could soon be overturned once Biden takes office Wednesday. Biden is also expected to roll out his own wave of executive orders in his first 10 days as president.

See what others are saying: (The Wall Street Journal) (The New York Times) (CNN)

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New COVID-19 Variant Could Become Dominant in the U.S. by March, CDC Warns

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  • The CDC warned Friday that a new highly transmissible COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.
  • The strain was first reported in the United Kingdom in December and is now in at least 10 states.
  • The CDC used a modeled trajectory to discover how quickly the variant could spread in the U.S. and said that this could threaten the country’s already overwhelmed healthcare system.

CDC Issues Warning

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Friday that the new COVID-19 variant could become the predominant variant in the United States by March.

While it is not known to be more deadly, it does spread at a higher rate, which is troubling considering the condition the U.S. is already in. Cases and deaths are already on the rise in nearly every state and globally, 2 million lives have been lost to the coronavirus. 

The variant was first reported in the United Kingdom in mid-December. It is now in 30 countries, including the U.S., where cases have been located in at least ten states. Right now, only 76 cases of this variant have been confirmed in the U.S., but experts believe that number is likely much higher and said it will increase significantly in the coming weeks. It is already a dominant strain in parts of the U.K.

Modeled trajectory shows that growth in the U.S. could be so fast that it dominates U.S. cases just three months into the new year. This could pose a huge threat to our already strained healthcare system.

Mitigating Spread of Variant

“I want to stress that we are deeply concerned that this strain is more transmissible and can accelerate outbreaks in the U.S. in the coming weeks,” said Dr. Jay Butler, deputy director for infectious diseases at the CDC told the New York Times. “We’re sounding the alarm and urging people to realize the pandemic is not over and in no way is it time to throw in the towel.”

The CDC advises that health officials use this time to limit spread and increase vaccination as much as possible in order to mitigate the impact this variant will have. Experts believe that current vaccines will protect against this strain.

“Effective public health measures, including vaccination, physical distancing, use of masks, hand hygiene, and isolation and quarantine, will be essential,” the CDC said in their report.

“Strategic testing of persons without symptoms but at higher risk of infection, such as those exposed to SARS-CoV-2 or who have frequent unavoidable contact with the public, provides another opportunity to limit ongoing spread.”

See what others are saying: (Wall Street Journal) (New York Times) (NBC News)

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