- Associated Press - Wednesday, February 12, 2014

PARIS (AP) - Zealous efforts to protect national security have taken a toll on press freedom in the last year, above all in the United States, a media watchdog said Wednesday.

The United States ranked 46th among 180 countries in a press freedom survey by Reporters Without Borders, falling 13 places from last year. Armed conflict, a perennial problem, also plays a major role in restricting press efforts: the Central African Republic, where a sectarian conflict has erupted, plunged furthest of all countries - 43 places to the 109th spot.

Finland, the Netherlands and Norway continue to top the press freedom ranking.

The report cited the U.S. reaction to former NSA intelligence contractor Edward Snowden and documents leaker Chelsea Manning, the U.S. Army soldier formerly known as Bradley Manning, as the prime reason for “one of the most significant declines” in press freedom. Manning is serving a 35-year sentence for sending more than 700,000 secret documents to the anti-secrecy website WikiLeaks while an intelligence analyst in Iraq.

“Countries that pride themselves on being democracies and respecting the rule of law have not set an example, far from it,” the report said. “Freedom of information is too often sacrificed to an overly broad and abusive interpretation of national security needs.”

The report cited among examples of government pressure on journalists the U.S. Justice Department’s secret seizure of Associated Press phone records revealed last year.

Press freedom is in a disastrous state in Syria, where numerous journalists have been killed during its brutal civil war. It ranked 177, just above Turkmenistan, North Korea and Eritrea.

Seven indicators are used to measure how the press performs in each country, including the level of violence, pluralism of opinions and the legislative framework.

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