Experts on free expression have condemned President Donald Trump's repeated "strategic" attacks on the press, warning that the US leader's rhetoric is eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists.
Experts on free expression have condemned President Donald Trump’s repeated “strategic” attacks on the press, warning that the US leader’s rhetoric is eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists. “His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” said David Kaye and Edison Lanza, Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights (IACHR), respectively.
The experts noted that 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,” the experts said.
“We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence,” they added. Kaye and Lanza said over the course of his presidency, Trump and others within his administration have sought 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, he suggests nefarious motivations or animus,” the experts said, adding, but he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations. They said it is critical that the US administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation, urging the President 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.
“The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language. We also urge his entire administration, including the Department of Justice, to avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources, an effort that undermines the independence of the media and the ability of the public to have access to information,” the two experts said. They also urged the government to stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.
“We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable,” they said. The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of 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. Two years is too much and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks,” Kaye and Lanza said. Trump has repeatedly called news organisations like CNN as “fake news” and had refused to take questions from a CNN reporter last month during a session with reporters in Britain.
The US President has also called American journalists “unpatriotic”, accusing them of putting lives at risk by their reporting. “When the media — driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome — reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!” Trump had said in a series of tweets.
“Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news accurately,” he had said, accusing the mainstream media of wrongful coverage. “Ninety per cent of media coverage of my administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low!” Trump had said. Kaye, as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is part of the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council.
Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Lanza is the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defence of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.