Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Standing Up to Press Oppressors
I’ve met with hundreds of journalists around the world the last 10 years discussing peace journalism and how and if it can be practiced. As journalists discuss obstacles to implementing PJ, the most frequently and universally mentioned impediment is government restrictions on free press.

Just in the last year, I’ve traveled to countries where anti-terrorism laws are used to silence journalists (Cameroon) and where a nation’s “powerful military pressured media outlets and journalists to disseminate positive coverage of its operations against militant Islamist groups” (Pakistan, according to Freedom House). I’m headed to Ethiopia next week to spend a semester teaching peace journalism. In Ethiopia, there are concerns about the government restricting access to the internet and social media, and 16 journalists were jailed for doing their jobs, according to Freedom House.

We Americans used to smugly think that undermining press freedom was an issue only in the developing world. Of course, we’ve been disabused of this notion by Donald Trump, whose anti-press rhetoric, which includes talk of tightening libel laws, seeks to undermine press freedom.
In fact, Trump has been bellowing recently about presenting his own awards for “fake news” to smear and discredit those who report negative information about his administration. As a counterweight to this foolishness, the Committee to Protect Journalists has devised its own Press Oppressors Awards list to recognize “world leaders who have gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media.”

CPJ’s awards categories include most thin-skinned (Turkey’s Erdogan and Trump), Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press, Tightest Grip on Media, Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom, and Overall Achievement in Undermining International Press Freedom. To no one’s surprise, Trump is the winner in the last category. According to the CPJ, “Trump…has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as (China’s) Xi, Erdoğan, and (Egypt’s) Sisi. Authorities in China, Syria, and Russia have adopted Trump's "fake news" epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists.”

It’s important for CPJ, Freedom House, Reporters Without Borders, and others who embrace the vital role of free press to remain vigilant against attacks against media by governments worldwide. I’ll continue doing my own small part a few journalists and students at a time in Ethiopia and elsewhere in 2018.

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