The fact that at least 350 media entities in the United States of America ran editorials last Thursday condemning Donald Trump’s inbuilt aversion towards and consistent attack on the Press is in itself testament to the freedom of the media, indeed the bedrock of a vibrant democracy. Not that he is the first US President to have attacked the Press ~ feeling that he has been “unfairly treated” by it ~ but he is the first who appears to have adopted a calculated and consistent policy of what has been described as “undermining, delegitimising and even endangering” the operations of the media.
Remarkable indeed is the counter-mobilisation by the country’s media. The press may have been asked to crawl, but it has refused to bend as in certain other parts of the world ~ once again the hallmark of the libertarian construct.
There is little doubt that the White House has been turning the screws; only last week a CNN reporter was barred from covering a public event after she asked Mr. Trump what his administration deemed was an “inappropriate question”. This no-entry imprimatur would have been inconceivable in Barack Obama’s era. The conflict between the Press and the President is palpable.
The nub of the matter must be that those who report and comment each day in a professional and objective manner are concerned that public respect for journalistic truth, reason, and civility are under threat. Small wonder that newspapers have resolved to “stand as best we can”.
As one editor has put it succinctly ~ “We’re not at war with the Trump administration, we’re at work.” So too was the Indian press in 1975-77, but those in authority thought differently. The rest is history as of India.
Virulent indeed has been Mr Trump’s attack on the press. He has called the media “enemies of the people” without substantiating so generalised a contention. He has accused the press of producing “fake news” and being “frankly disgusting”. He recently called the press “dangerous and sick”, and charged that they can “cause war”.
He has called journalists “the lowest form of humanity” ~ a wholly unwarranted expletive. Of a piece with such denunciations was the directive to the FBI chief James Comey, to consider jailing journalists for publishing leaks.
Markedly, the Trump administration has removed reminders to respect Press freedom from its internal manuals. He has singled out four venerable news organisations in particular ~ CNN, MSNBC, the New York Times and the Washington Post, even insulting them in public as he did at his Chequers press conference.
The raging kerfuffle shall not overshadow the core issue, pre-eminently the democratic certitude of a free Press. Hence the warning this week by the United Nations human rights commissioner, specifically that Mr Trump’s attacks on the Press are “very close to incitement to violence”. There is a parable to be drawn from the joust ~ Donald Trump must allow a free Press to do its job.