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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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Medical Workers Sign Letter Urging Spotify to Combat Misinformation, Citing Joe Rogan

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The letter accused Spotify of “enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research.”


Doctors and Medical Professionals Sign Letter to Spotify

A group of 270 doctors, scientists, and other medical workers signed an open letter to Spotify this week urging the audio platform to implement a misinformation policy, specifically citing false claims made on the “Joe Rogan Experience” podcast. 

Rogan has faced no shortage of backlash over the last year for promoting vaccine misinformation on his show, which airs exclusively on Spotify. Most recently, he invited Dr. Robert Malone on a Dec. 31 episode that has since been widely criticized by health experts. 

Dr. Malone was banned from Twitter for promoting COVID-19 misinformation. According to the medical experts who signed the letter, he “used the JRE platform to further promote numerous baseless claims, including several falsehoods about COVID-19 vaccines and an unfounded theory that societal leaders have ‘hypnotized’ the public.”

“Notably, Dr. Malone is one of two recent JRE guests who has compared pandemic policies to the Holocaust,” the letter continued. “These actions are not only objectionable and offensive, but also medically and culturally dangerous.”

Joe Rogan’s History of COVID-19 Misinformation

Rogan sparked swift criticism himself in the spring of 2021 when he discouraged young people from taking the COVID-19 vaccine. He also falsely equated mRNA vaccines to “gene therapy” and incorrectly stated that vaccines cause super mutations of the virus. He took ivermectin after testing positive for the virus in September, despite the fact that the drug is not approved as a treatment for COVID.

“By allowing the propagation of false and societally harmful assertions, Spotify is enabling its hosted media to damage public trust in scientific research and sow doubt in the credibility of data-driven guidance offered by medical professionals,” the doctors and medical workers wrote. 

“We are calling on Spotify to take action against the mass-misinformation events which continue to occur on its platform,” they continued. “With an estimated 11 million listeners per episode, JRE is the world’s largest podcast and has tremendous influence. Though Spotify has a responsibility to mitigate the spread of misinformation on its platform, the company presently has no misinformation policy.”

Rolling Stone was the first outlet to report on the letter from the medical professionals. Dr. Katrine Wallace, an epidemiologist at the University of Illinois Chicago, was among the signees. She told the magazine that Rogan is “a menace to public health.”

“These are fringe ideas not backed in science, and having it on a huge platform makes it seem there are two sides to this issue,” she said. “And there are really not.”

Spotify had not responded to the letter as of Thursday.

See what others are saying: (Rolling Stone) (Deadline) (Insider)

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Data Shows Omicron May be Peaking in the U.S.

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In some cities that were first hit by the surge, new cases are starting to flatten and decline.


New Cases Flattening

After weeks of recording-breaking cases driven by the highly infectious omicron variant, public health officials say that new COVID infections seem to be slowing in the parts of the country that were hit the hardest earlier on.

Following a more than twentyfold rise in December, cases in New York City have flattened out in recent days. 

New infections have even begun to fall slightly in some states, like Maryland and New Jersey. In Boston, the levels of COVID in wastewater — which has been a top indicator of case trends in the past — have dropped by nearly 40% since the first of the year.

Overall, federal data has shown a steep decline in COVID-related emergency room visits in the Northeast, and the rest of the country appears to be following a similar track.

Data from other countries signals the potential for a steep decline in cases following the swift and unprecedented surge.

According to figures from South Africa, where the variant was first detected, cases rose at an incredibly shocking rate for about a month but peaked quickly in mid-December. Since then, new infections have plummeted by around 70%.

In the U.K., which has typically been a map for how U.S. cases will trend, infections are also beginning to fall after peaking around New Year’s and then flattening for about a week.

Concerns Remain 

Despite these recent trends, experts say it is still too early to say if cases in the U.S. will decline as rapidly as they did in South Africa and the parts of the U.K. that were first hit. 

While new infections may seem to be peaking in the cities that saw the first surges, caseloads continue to climb in most parts of the country. 

Meanwhile, hospitals are overwhelmed and health resources are still strained because of the high volume of cases hitting all at once.

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

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COVID-Driven School Closures Top Record Highs, But Many Remain Open

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While some districts have implemented protective measures, many teachers say they fall short.


Schools Respond to Omicron Surge

U.S. COVID cases, driven by the omicron variant, are continuously topping new record highs, posing difficult questions for schools resuming after winter break.

According to Burbio, a data firm that tracks school closures, at least 5,409 public schools canceled classes or moved to remote learning by the end of last week due to COVID — more than triple the number at the end of December.

That is still only a fraction of the nation’s 130,000 schools, and many of the biggest school districts in the country are still insisting that students come into the classroom.

Los Angeles, which is home to the second-biggest district, is requiring that students at least test negative before they return to school this week.

In the biggest district of New York City, classes have already resumed following winter break. Although the city has said it will double random tests and send home more kits, students were not required to provide negative results.

Teachers Protest In-Person Learning

Teachers in other major districts have protested the local government’s decisions to stay open.

One of the most closely watched battles is in Chicago, where students on Monday missed their fourth consecutive day of school due to a feud between the Chicago Teachers Union and Mayor Lori Lightfoot (D).

Last week, the union voted to return to remote learning in defiance of a city-wide order mandating they teach in-person, citing inadequate COVID-19 protections. Lightfoot claimed the conditions were fine and that students were safe, despite record surges, instead opting to cancel classes altogether while the fight plays out.

On Sunday, the union said it was “still far apart” from making any kind of agreement with public school officials after Lightfoot rejected their demands.

Lightfoot, for her part, has said she remains “hopeful” a deal could be reached, but she also stirred up the union by accusing teachers of staging an “illegal walkout” and claiming they “abandoned their posts and they abandoned kids and their families.”

Meanwhile, teachers in other school districts have begun to emulate the tactics in Chicago.

On Friday, teachers in Oakland, California staged a “sick-out,” promoting 12 schools serving thousands of students to close.

See what others are saying: (The Chicago Tribune) (CNN) (The New York Times)

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