MORE than 350 news organisations in the US agreed to publish editorials hitting back at President Trump’s attacks on the media, which does not look like abating. The initiative, undertaken by the Boston Globe, aims to denounce what the paper described as the “dirty war against the free press.” Trump routinely declares reports that are critical of his policies or portray him in a negative light as “fake news” and has often dismissed news journalists as “enemies of the American people.”
In the past, he has referred to the “tremendously dishonest press” and dismissed the freedom of speech exercised by American journalists as “frankly disgusting.” A couple of weeks ago, speaking at a political rally in Pennsylvania, he tried to rouse the crowd’s anger against the journalists covering the event from the back of the arena, declaring “only negative stories from the fakers back there.” It was not the first time he had tried to pit a crowd of his supporters against the reporters covering a public gathering. A similar case was shown in a BBC documentary, in which the reporters felt so intimidated by the crowd they left the arena.
This is not the behaviour anyone would expect from the so-called leader of the free world, of which a free press is an integral component. Trump gives the impression that he would be much happier with the type of deferential news stories put out by media in Russia and Turkey about their rulers. There is no freedom of the press in these countries, so their authoritarian rulers never complain about “fake news” or the “tremendously dishonest press.”
Nobody is claiming that the press in the West is made of angels that never get anything wrong, but a free press, even with its weaknesses, is a cornerstone of liberal democracy. Systematically undermining news organisations and labelling them “enemies of the American people,” as President Trump has done, is a disservice to the long traditions of free speech and democracy in the US to which the free press has made a big contribution.
What is most worrying is that 51 per cent of Republicans now regard the media as the enemy of the American people, which indicates that Trump’s fake news outbursts are having an effect. This will encourage him to carry on with the same tactic, regardless of the editorials in the US media defending free speech.
The only free speech President Trump appreciates and respects is that which praises him and there are not too many news organisations practising it currently.