The Office of the High Commissioner on Human Rights for the United Nations has issued stern condemnation of President Trump’s attacks on the free press.
On Thursday, the UN’s human rights chief, in cooperation with Inter-American experts on freedom of expression, published a statement demanding Trump immediately stop his attacks on the free press, saying it’s paramount that the media be allowed to do their job of “holding government accountable, honest and transparent.”
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” UN Special Rapporteurs David Kaye and Edison Lanza said in the statement. “These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.”
“We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence,” they continued. “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. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.”
The statement came the same day as Trump’s rally in Wilkes-Barre, Pennsylvania, in which Trump referred to the free press as the “fake disgusting news.” The crowd responded by chanting “CNN sucks!” The hostile climate toward the media was similar at a rally in Florida, as Trump supporters surrounded CNN reporter Jim Acosta, shouting “fake news” and “go home” in the middle of his live shot.
Reporters are undoubtedly facing a far more dangerous climate in today’s America than under previous administrations in recent history. Since February of 2017, Trump has referred to the media as “the enemy of the American people,” escalating to the point where journalists at the Capital Gazette in Annapolis, Maryland were killed in their own newsroom in a mass shooting — just days after Trump supporter and provocateur Milo Yiannopoulos said he can’t wait for vigilantes to start “gunning journalists down on sight.”
In their 2018 global press freedom index, Reporters Without Borders ranked the United States 45 out of 180 countries in press freedom, down two rankings from 2017.
“[Trump] has declared the press an ‘enemy of the American people’ in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term “fake news” in retaliation for critical reporting. He has even called for revoking certain media outlets’ broadcasting licenses,” Reporters Without Borders wrote in its explanation of the ranking. “The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions.”
Nick Jewell is a freelance political writer, and a proud resident of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.