Archive for December, 2017


Reporters Without Borders: Dictators Quoting Trump in Press Crackdowns

The image of the United States as a bastion of freedom seems to have done a 180-degree turn, with authoritarian regimes around the planet now quoting President Trump as they crack down on free speech and press, warns media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders.

The group makes this observation as 234 Americans face severe criminal penalties after they were rounded up at the Inauguration Day protests in Washington, D.C., in January, putting a chill on protected speech and the right to assemble. Many of Trump’s counterparts approve of such crackdowns. Listening to these leaders’ anti-media tirades, one can easily imagine the same words coming from Trump.

Thailand’s Prime Minister mentioned “fake reports and hate speech” in his recent announcement of a crackdown on the media.

President Donald J. Trump and First Lady Melania Trump pose for photos with Thailand Prime Minister, Pryut Chan-o-Cha and his wife Assoc. Prof. Madam Naraporn Chan-o-Cha in the Oval Office at the White House, Monday, October 2, 2017, in Washington, D.C. (Official White House Photo by Shealah Craighead)

“I don’t want to make enemies. But society needs to function in an orderly fashion,” the Bangkok Post quotes Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, leader of the military junta that took over the nation in a coup in 2014. “No matter who you are, if you twist the facts, write what is not true or incite hatred, you will face legal action.”

Cambodia’s Prime Minister Hun Sen, meanwhile, has voiced bilious support for Trump’s attacks on CNN. The long-serving leader has been busy shutting down media outlets like the Cambodia Daily ahead of the nation’s 2018 general elections.

“CNN deserves the rantings of President Donald Trump,” said the former Khmer Rouge official. “His rantings are right. I would like to send a message to the president that your attack on CNN is right. American media is very bad.”

Dictators Cozy Up to Trump and His ‘Fake News’

Reporters Without Borders sees a clear danger to American democracy and the resulting global ripples of Trump’s all-out assault on facts and the free press. This could be the first time the United States has reversed course and found itself encouraging rather than discouraging dictators from stifling freedoms.

“The phenomenon of ‘fake news’ is a serious one—both at the national and international level,” Margaux Ewen, advocacy and communications director for the group’s North America Bureau, told me in a recent interview. “Opponents of press freedom all over the world have used the term to silence and discredit the media. They have even gone so far as to quote statements from President Trump to support and justify their misdirected policies and draconian laws.

“Authoritarian regimes all over the world can now take full advantage of this anti-media stance by discrediting mainstream news coverage and calling it ‘fake news.’ There are serious global implications of President Trump’s stance against the media.”

U.S. Reporter Faces 70 Years in Prison…for Reporting

The 234 defendants, or the “J20,” as they’re being called, include Santa Fe, N.M.-based journalist Aaron

Cantú. He was rounded up en masse during the Inauguration Day arrests while reporting on the ground, and now faces 70 years behind bars. Reporters Without Borders is watching his case with deep concern about the future of America’s press freedoms.

 

“At the time of his arrest in January, we publicly admonished his arrest and charges,” Ewen told me. “No journalist should be arrested and charged with a criminal offense for simply doing their job covering a protest.”

Big Moment for Democracy as Reporter Goes to Trial

Cantú emailed me this statement as he prepares his defense against the sort of crackdown we are used to seeing done only by authoritarian regimes.

“While I appreciate the outsized attention my case has gotten because of my profession, the entirety of the J20 prosecution is a watershed moment for how the state conceives of and persecutes political activism in the Trump era. These mass trials confirm some of the worst fears about a so-called law-and-order presidential administration that is hypersensitive to criticism, and should be watched closely by anybody concerned with the direction of this country.”

‘No Easy Fix’ for U.S. Press Freedom

Once America jumps down that anti-media rabbit hole, it’s going to be an epic struggle to get out of it, says Reporters Without Borders.

“Unfortunately, there is no easy fix for this erosion of trust in the media,” said Ewen.

Ewen says Americans need to become more media savvy, which may be too big a hurdle.

“Double checking sources and facts, consuming news from established and unbiased outlets, and running the story by a few different sources are just a few ways to verify the information available to the reader,” said Ewen.

Ultimately, though, the future of press freedom is in the hands of the man at the top. Unless he changes course, Trump could do lasting damage to American democracy, said Ewen.

“Until President Trump learns to accept criticism from the media and starts respecting the First Amendment, press freedom in the U.S. will continue to be undermined, putting American democracy at risk.”

 

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