2015 World Press Freedom Index shows dwindling press freedom worldwide

Reporters Without Borders released its 2015 World Press Freedom Index on Wednesday, revealing a worldwide decline in freedom for journalists. The United States, which has consistently slipped in the rankings since 2009, came in at 49 of 180 countries.

The United States fell three places in the index after a tumultuous year for American journalists, according to the nonprofit organization, which works to promote freedom of information and freedom of the press.

Delphine Halgand, the director for Reporters Without Borders USA, lead a panel discussion on Wednesday at the National Press Club, discussing the trends leading to dwindling press freedom and noting countries who had dramatically risen or fallen on the index this year.

The need for a federal shield law to protect journalists from being compelled to name confidential sources became a national conversation as the seven-year legal battle between the Department of Justice and The New York Times investigative reporter James Risen came to a head. Risen was issued a subpoena to testify against former CIA agent Jeffrey Sterling, who was accused of leaking to Risen information that detailed a botched CIA mission. Although the Supreme Court would not hear Risen’s case, Attorney General Eric Holder eventually conceded and did not force Risen to testify.

These issues are not unique from the experiences of student journalists, who often clash with school and public officials during the course of their reporting.

In November 2014, police arrested more than a dozen journalists during demonstrations protesting the fatal shooting of black teenager Michael Brown by a white police officer in Ferguson, Mo., including an American University student and a Tufts University student.

In New York City, a City University of New York student journalist was arrested in December 2014 at a protest over a grand jury’s decision not to indict police officer Daniel Pantaleo in the choking death of Eric Garner.

In March 2014, a photojournalism student at Temple University filed a lawsuit after he was arrested for photographing a traffic stop as part of a class assignment.

Student journalists also struggle with transparency issues when it comes to obtaining records from their schools.

School administrators often overreach when claiming protection from the federal student privacy law, creating barriers for journalists seeking information about university presidential searches and even campus parking tickets.

In some states, colleges have pushed for legislation which would make documents even harder for journalists to obtain, mirroring the national drop in press freedom. In January, the New Mexico Council of University Presidents proposed legislation which would add exemptions to the state’s public records law. Suggested exemptions include certain campus law enforcement records, and documents detailing the hiring of public employees.

Reporters Without Borders uses seven factors to calculate each country’s overall score, which is then used to rank the country, according to the World Press Freedom Index methodology. Countries are assessed based on pluralism, media independence, environment and self-censorship, legislative framework, transparency, infrastructure and abuses.

The United States scored 24.41, placing on the lower end of the “satisfactory” category.