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Press Freedom

'Trump's comments may increase risk of violence against journalists' - UN expert

The US president has made frequent attacks on the media, and consistently accused them of being biased.

US PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP’S attacks on the media have been strongly condemned by two experts of press freedom and human rights.

The rapporteurs urged the White House administration to cease undermining the free press, stressing that its role was to hold governments accountable and to push for transparency.

“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” said David Kaye, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the United Nations; and Edison Lanza, the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.

The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people”, “very dishonest”, or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.
These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law. We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.

Trump has made verbal attacks on the media who have been critical of the policy direction of his administration, with many articles, editorials and opinion pieces accusing him of being unfit and unstable to serve as president.

Trump in turn has accused the media of being biased against him, and of siding with Hillary Clinton in the election through predicting that she would win. These attacks resonate with his core voter base, which feel that the media (and previous administrations) have largely ignored the main issues which affect them.

Trump’s relationship with the media has been frequently compared with the reign of US President Richard Nixon, who resigned because of the Watergate scandal, despite his administration’s repeated protestations that the media was just making “wild accusations” and unfairly attacking Nixon.

Trump Matt Rourke via PA Images Matt Rourke via PA Images

Kaye and Lanza said that Trump and his administration had tried to undermine reporting that had uncovered “waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation”.

“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets,” the experts added, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.

“It is critical that the US administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.

Trump Carolyn Kaster via PA Images Carolyn Kaster via PA Images

“The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language,” they said.

The experts also Government to stop pursuing whistleblowers through the  courts to try and reveal their sources, and to stop using the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.

The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.

“Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions,” Kaye and Lanza said. “Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.”

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