Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said it is concerned by President Donald Trump’s latest attacks against American media outlets accusing them of reporting “fake news”. These attacks set a dangerous precedent for the world’s press freedom predators, many of whom have had journalists imprisoned on charges like “reporting false information.”
During a press conference last Friday, United States President Donald Trump attacked the press for what he deemed dishonest and hostile reporting since he took office: “we have to talk to find out what’s going on, because the press honestly is out of control. The level of dishonesty is out of control.” He proceeded to claim that recent articles in the press concerning former National Security Advisor Michael Flynn’s contacts with Russia which ultimately led to his resignation were “fake news”. However President Trump insisted that the real story that needed coverage was the leaks regarding Flynn’s ties to Russia: “Russia is fake news…the leaks are absolutely real. The news is fake because so much of the news is fake.”
Trump also singled out CNN during an exchange with White House correspondent Jim Acosta and claimed he wanted to “turn in CNN for not doing a good job.” Trump then claimed that FOX News morning show “Fox & Friends” has “the most honest morning show.”
After the press conference, Trump sent the following message to his supporters, asking them to complete a survey:
“You know that I don’t trust the media to report on anything we achieve.
Instead, you — the American people — are our last line of defense against the media’s hit jobs.
You are our greatest asset in helping our movement deliver the truth to the American people.
Which is why I need you to take the Mainstream Media Accountability Survey to do your part to fight back against the media’s attacks and deceptions.”
The survey asked Trump supporters to assess the “mainstream media’s performance in its coverage of Trump during the campaign and since he took office. Some of the questions asked about specific topics covered in the media: “Do you believe that the mainstream media has reported unfairly on our movement? Do you trust CNN/FOX News/MSNBC to report fairly on Trump’s presidency? Do you believe that the mainstream media does not do their due diligence fact-checking before publishing stories on the Trump administration?”
“These verbal attacks on American journalists are very concerning as they come from the President of the United States, the country which is supposed to have a strong free press protected by the First Amendment, says Margaux Ewen, Advocacy and Communications Director for RSF North America. This sends a dangerous message to the world’s most authoritarian leaders that blaming the press for publishing false information, when that information is detrimental to a leader’s reputation, is an acceptable tactic. The world’s worst press freedom predators have already imprisoned journalists and bloggers for ‘disseminating false information’.”
Just last week, RSF reported that 6 journalists in Ivory Coast were detained for several days on charges of “publishing false news” and “inciting army personnel to insubordination and rebellion.” The journalists – including three newspaper editors and one publisher – were arrested for reporting that bonuses were paid to members of the army’s special forces who staged a mutiny in the southeastern town of Adiaké. Though they were released on February 14, the charges against them are still pending.
Saudi blogger and co-founder of the “Liberal Saudi Network” Raif Badawi was sentenced in 2014 to 10 years in prison, 1,000 lashes and a 10-year travel ban for “disobeying and breaking allegiance with the sovereign,” “lack of respect for the authorities,” “contempt of court,” “preparing, storing and circulating information that undermines public order,” “inciting rebellion,” and “publishing false information with the aim of harming the state”. The winner of the 2014 RSF Press Freedom Prize in the Netizen category and the European Parliament’s 2015 Sakharov Prize, Badawi has now been detained for more than four years.
The United States ranks 41 out of 180 countries in RSF’s 2016 World Press Freedom Index.