Sunday, 19 November, 2017

Do American media under Trump enjoy freedom?

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By Vahid Jafarian, Editorial Board Member

Media freedom and pluralism are at the heart of any democracy. Free and independent media are key weapons in the fight against corruption. It is no coincidence that corruption is less widespread in countries which have high-quality independent journalism and vice versa.

This shows the importance of fostering investigative journalism and a climate in which journalists can work without the threat of being imprisoned or worse.

Freedom of the press in the United States is protected by the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. This clause is generally understood as a means to prevent the government from interfering with the distribution of information and opinions. Nevertheless, freedom of the press is subject to certain restrictions, such as the defamation law.

In February 2016, however, Donald Trump had pledged to change the defamation laws in a way that could undermine the first amendment and the freedom of the press.

Trump heightened tensions with the media on Friday, accusing them of being “the enemy of the American people”.

In a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference, Mr. Trump criticized as “fake news” organizations that publish anonymously sourced reports that reflect poorly on him.

“The fake news doesn’t tell the truth,” Mr. Trump said to the delight of the conservatives packed into the main ballroom at the Gaylord National Resort and Convention Center just south of Washington. “It doesn’t represent the people, it doesn’t and never will represent the people, and we’re going to do something about it.”

Hours after the speech, Sean Spicer, the White House press secretary, barred journalists from The New York Times and several other news organizations from attending his daily briefing, a highly unusual breach of relations between the White House and its press corps.

Spicer’s decision drew a sharp response from some of the media outlets that were excluded.

Dean Baquet, executive editor of The New York Times, said: “Nothing like this has ever happened at the White House in our long history of covering multiple administrations of different parties.

“We strongly protest the exclusion of The New York Times and the other news organizations.

“Free media access to a transparent government is obviously of crucial national interest.”

The White House Correspondents Association, or WHCA, also protested.

Jeff Mason, president of the association and Reuters reporter, said: “The WHCA board is protesting strongly against how today’s gaggle is being handled by the White House.”

Trump says some news organizations lie and on Friday denounced their use of anonymous sources while critics say the President’s attacks endanger press freedoms.

During the election campaign last year, Trump’s team banned a few news organizations, including The Washington Post and BuzzFeed, from covering his campaign rallies for a period of time to protest their coverage.

CNN posted a Twitter message on Friday afternoon saying: “This is an unacceptable development by the Trump White House. Apparently this is how they retaliate when you report facts they don’t like. We’ll keep reporting regardless.”

Ben Smith, editor-in-chief of BuzzFeed News, said in a statement: “While we strongly object to the White House’s apparent attempt to punish news outlets whose coverage it does not like, we won’t let these latest antics distract us from continuing to cover this administration fairly and aggressively.”

Less than a month before the U.S. presidential election, the Committee to Protect Journalists issued an unprecedented statement denouncing the then-Republican nominee. “[Donald] Trump has insulted and vilified the press and has made his opposition to the media a centerpiece of his campaign,” said the committee, a New York-based organization that promotes press freedom.

“A Trump presidency would represent a threat to press freedom in the United States.”

With little more than one months after Trump has took the oath of office, the threat to the media is reality.

Washington post and Daily Mirror contributed to this report

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