Press Freedom and
Freedom House, an organization that promotes democratic values around the world, annually ranks nations by the amount of freedom they accord to the press. Perhaps surprisingly, the United States does not appear in the top ten of recent rankings. Despite the First Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits laws that would abridge free press rights, and widespread agreement that the United States is among the most democratic nations in the world, the United States shares the number-sixteen ranking with Estonia, Ireland, Germany, Monaco, and St. Lucia.1
In North Korea, the nation with the least press freedom in the world, the constitution includes a guarantee of freedom of speech, but expression that does not align with the “collective spirit” is not permitted. In Iceland, which, along with Finland, has the greatest press freedom, speech and press freedom are constitutionally guaranteed, but a person who denigrates the doctrines of religious groups faces fines and imprisonment. And in Finland the government has provided direct grants to newspapers and funds to political party presses in its autonomous territory, Aland Island.
But wait, you might say. The governments of North Korea and Iceland both place limits on the press, so why is North Korea considered the worst? And why is Iceland considered to have greater press freedom than the United States, where the Constitution not only guarantees freedom of speech and the press but does so without limits on expression about religious or other groups? Moreover, doesn’t the Finnish government’s financial support for journalism put the news outlets’ independence at risk? If the government intervenes in free expression—whether by exercising strict control over all speech, prohibiting certain kinds of press content, or even promoting the political press—then what does it mean for the press to be free?2