Tuesday 22 October 2019

Leo Varadkar admits 'fake news' not a good term to use due to its connection to Donald Trump

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins
Taoiseach Leo Varadkar. Picture: Collins

Cormac McQuinn in New York

TAOISEACH Leo Varadkar has admitted that the phrase "fake news" is "perhaps not a good term to use" due to its link to US President Donald Trump.

Mr Varadkar has used the phrase in the past and was called out on it in an opinion piece in the New York Times which included him among world leaders like Mr Trump, Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro and Hungarian prime minister Viktor Orban.

The article, headlined The Growing Threat to Journalism Around the World, reported that Mr Trump has tweeted about "fake news" almost 600 times since taking office.

READ MORE: Varadkar: 'Trump's claim about Ireland's corporate tax rate is fake news'

Donald Trump faces reporters in the Oval Office (Evan Vucci/AP)
Donald Trump faces reporters in the Oval Office (Evan Vucci/AP)

It accused the President of undermining his own citizens' faith in news organisations seeking to hold him accountable. It also argued that it gave licence to foreign leaders to similarly undermine his countries' journalists.

The writer says other leaders have "eagerly embraced the approach" and more than 50 prime ministers, presidents and other government leaders have used the term 'fake news'".

It says: "The phrase has been used by Prime Minister Viktor Orban in Hungary and President Recep Tayyip Erdogan in Turkey.

It also says: "It has been used by liberal leaders, like Ireland’s prime minister, Leo Varadkar.

"It’s been used by right-wing leaders, like Brazil’s president, Jair Bolsonaro. Standing next to President Bolsonaro in the Rose Garden, President Trump said, “I’m very proud to hear the president use the term ‘fake news.’”

READ MORE: Varadkar 'suggested creating anonymous accounts online to make positive comments on news'

Jair Bolsonaro (Eraldo Peres/AP)
Jair Bolsonaro (Eraldo Peres/AP)

At a press conference in New York Mr Varadkar was asked if he regretted using the phrase.

He said he didn't see the New York Times article and didn't want to comment on it directly.

But he added: "Any time that I've referred to fake news - and it wouldn't be regular - what I mean is news that isn't true.

"Unfortunately, it is the case that from time to time, news is reported as news and it turns out not to be true or not to be the full truth.

READ MORE: Comment: Varadkar's attack on the media is good for Irish journalists

"And I think the public rightly expect journalists and media organisations to correct any errors that they make... That's what I mean by it.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP)
Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan (AP)

But he added: "Perhaps it's not a good term to use, because of its association with President Trump who has a different agenda."

The New York Times article also outlined how Ireland helped prevent the arrest of one of its journalists, Irishman Declan Walsh in Egypt, claiming the Trump administration was prepared to let him be detained.

It described how the US news organisation contacted the Irish government and "Within an hour, Irish diplomats traveled to his house and safely escorted him to the airport before Egyptian forces could detain him."

READ MORE: New York Times journalist under threat of arrest in Egypt was rescued by Irish authorities 

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