Tuesday 20 February 2018

Editors round on Trump over press attacks

'We are not the enemy,' say world media leaders

US President Donald Trump and Jessica Johnson, president of Johnson Security Bureau Inc., listen during a meeting with small business owners in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Photo: GETTY
US President Donald Trump and Jessica Johnson, president of Johnson Security Bureau Inc., listen during a meeting with small business owners in the Roosevelt Room of the White House. Photo: GETTY

Andrew Heslop

International media leaders have signalled their deep concern with the US administration's persistent attacks on the press in a letter addressed to President Donald Trump.

The letter, sent to the US administration on behalf of the Executive Committee, World Editors Forum and Media Freedom boards of the Paris-based World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA), highlights the United States' historic relationship with a free press.

It underlines how the president's actions since coming to office risk inspiring leaders in countries with weaker press freedom safeguards to repress or stifle essential freedoms.

Read more: Donald Trump printed out made-up €346bn Nato invoice and handed it to Angela Merkel

The letter, which is signed by more than 50 media executives, including Independent News & Media editor-in-chief Stephen Rae, also firmly rejects Mr Trump's repeated accusation that the media is the "enemy of the American people", and calls on his administration to build a better professional relationship with the media.

WAN-IFRA, based in Paris and Frankfurt, with subsidiaries in Singapore, India and Mexico, is the global organisation of the world's newspapers and news publishers.

The letter reads:

"We are writing on behalf of the World Association of Newspapers and News Publishers (WAN-IFRA) and the World Editors Forum (WEF), to express our deep concern at recent comments made by you and your administration targeting news media. Combined with the exclusion of selected news outlets from a recent White House press briefing, we fear that the overall climate for media freedom currently being fostered by your presidency seriously jeopardises the on-going ability of a free press to hold power to account in the United States.

Targeting

"Mr President, we are dismayed to hear your frequent comments since being elected to office disparaging media and targeting individual outlets - seemingly for no other reason than personal retribution for critical reporting of you or your administration. We remind you that it is the role of a free press, protected under the 1st Amendment of the Constitution of the United States of America, and Article 19 of both the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, to subject government and the actions of elected officials to the highest standards of scrutiny and accountability. We highlight one particular comment, among many, that you chose to articulate via the Twitter platform, the sentiments of which you then repeated during a speech to the Conservative Political Action Conference held on February 24th 2017: 'The FAKE NEWS media (failing @nytimes, @NBCNews, @ABC, @CBS, @CNN) is not my enemy, it is the enemy of the American People!'

"Such an accusation is immensely damaging on a number of levels. Firstly, 'fake news', more appropriately termed 'disinformation', is indeed provoking a crisis among professional news media institutions throughout the world. Addressing the question of how the professional media responds to the growing phenomenon is one of the highest priorities for our members.

"It is deeply unhelpful, however, to see the President of the United States of America fuelling antagonism towards news outlets by labelling them - misleadingly - as 'fake news'. In reality, the organisations cited by you in this particular tweet adhere to the highest professional and ethical standards, and it is disingenuous to suggest they contribute to the current 'fake news' epidemic.

"The effects of deliberate attempts to spread disinformation have been seen to influence election processes, alter policy, and surface unprecedented hatreds and growing resentment between peoples; all of which contribute to the division of communities.

"The causes, as well as the appropriate responses required to counter disinformation, are being analysed by newsrooms globally, particularly in terms of what this means for professional media and the practice of journalism.

"The media will find a response that continues to valorise the work of professional journalists and allows the public to filter facts from fiction.

"However, differentiating between those that apply such standards and the organisations, blogging sites, social media commentators, etc, that do not, is very much part of the core challenge ahead regarding tackling disinformation...

"We must also take firm exception to your accusation that media is the 'enemy of the American People'. At a time when journalists and news media are being increasingly targeted for violent reprisal (and, in too many cases, often deadly retribution as a result of the work they do), the tone of your comment is highly inflammatory.

'In a deeply divided America, a country facing many challenges on numerous fronts, the need for a vocal and critical press to act as the watchdog over essential freedoms on behalf of society seems more urgent than ever."

Irish Independent

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