WASHINGTON — Trump’s hostility towards the media sets a bad example to global governments for respecting press freedom, Reporters Without Borders, said Wednesday in its latest world press freedom index.
“What we are seeing here at the United States is the declining trend of respect for press of freedom,” declared Margaux Ewen, North America Executive Director of RWB, a non-profit press-freedom advocacy organization.
The freedom index in 2018 found that the United States—the country with the iconic First Amendment enshrined in its Constitution—slipped another two places in the index to 45th out of 180 countries.
Hostility towards the media from the “media-bashing enthusiast” president Donald Trump and other political leaders posed an extremely huge threat to journalism and democracy, the index report said.
“Political leaders who fuel loathing for reporters bear heavy responsibility because they undermine the concept of public debate based on facts instead of propaganda,” secretary-general Christophe Deloire of RWB said in the report.
Over the last year, Trump popularized the phrase “fake news media” and labeled the U.S. mainstream media as “the enemy of the American People” on his Twitter account. Last October, Trump suggested the federal government should revoke the National Broadcasting Company’s broadcast license after NBC reported critical stories on him. But the U.S. Federal Communication Commission licenses individual television stations, not networks.
The New York Times, one of the mainstream outlets on Trump’s “fake news media” lists, was awarded this year’s Pulitzer Prize earlier this month for national reporting on Russia’s connections to the Trump campaign in 2016 election and the president’s eventual administration.
The RWB also found that in Europe—traditionally the safest heaven for press freedom—verbal violence from politicians is on the rise. Examples cited in the report include that president Milos Zeman in the Czech Republic attended a press conference with a fake Kalashnikov rifle inscribed with the words “for journalists,” as well as then-Prime Minister Robert Fico calling journalists “filthy anti-Slovak prostitutes” and “idiotic hyenas,” in Slovakia.
Following Trump’s lead, there is a global trend of “fake news” mimic and politician’s verbal violence against the media, according to the North American Executive Director of Reporters Without Borders. “We are not setting the example that we used to set at home. That might have made us more credible when we asked for other countries that are generally repressive of press freedom to respect the role of journalists and democracy,” Ewen said at the report-releasing event.
At a news briefing Wednesday afternoon, White House Press Secretary Sarah Sanders rejected the idea that the president or his administration has undermined the freedom of the press.
“We support a free press…That’s one of the reasons I’m standing here taking your questions. And a lot of times taking your questions in a tone that’s completely unnecessary, unneeded and frankly doesn’t help further the conversation,” Sanders said.
“Journalists, media workers, bloggers. They are all taking these risks to report the news for the public’s benefits,” said RWB’s Ewen, “We need citizens to stand up and fight for the right journalists to do their reporting, because it affects their right to know.”