U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts.
The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.
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.
Over the course of his presidency, Trump and others within his administration, have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation.
Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavored 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.
It is critical that the U.S. administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.
The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language. We also urge his entire administration, including the Department of Justice, to avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources, an effort that undermines the independence of the media and the ability of the public to have access to information.
We urge the Government to stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.
We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.
We encourage all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favor some outlets over others. Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions. Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.
(David Kaye is the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression for the United Nations and Edison Lanza is Special Rapporteur for the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights.)