Donald J Trump is more powerful than any other most powerful person ever in the world. The reason is not only that he is the President of a country that staunchly believes in and makes sure to establish its primacy on the global stage, but also that he is perhaps the most unpopular President of that country. Even if we assume that there had been Presidents in the past, who had also held preposterous opinions, the difference between them and Trump is that of information technology.
In the twenty-first century as the internet and social media circumscribe every nook and corner of the world, anything he does, says or tweets reaches millions of people; and there are certainly many who take his buffoonery seriously (as is evident from the fact that he was elected as President in the first place). So when Trump describes media persons as “among the most dishonest human beings on earth”, it is severely distressing not only because something seems to be really wrong with the beliefs of the US President but because of the propensity of his statements to influence millions of people across the world.
Trump and his team vociferously falsified news reports that stated that the turnout for his Presidential inauguration was much less than that for his predecessor Barack Obama. The new President’s audacious attack on the media came despite the fact that aerial views of the National Mall on Live TV did not show crowds “all the way back to the Washington Monument” as claimed by him. Anyone who saw pictures and videos of both the Presidential inauguration and the concurrent protests against him led by women in different cities of the world would know where the turnout was enormous.
Trump’s rowdiness with CNN’s senior White House correspondent Jim Acosta at a press briefing was highly disgraceful behaviour by a President of a democracy. He has also unreasonably blamed the media for “portraying” that he has differences with the US intelligence community, something that is evident from his own tweets targeting the CIA.
By attacking the media and calling it “disgusting” for doing its job, Trump is behaving more like a millionaire who is used to having his way. His “running a war” with the media appears to have been guided by his ego and wishful thinking rather than rationale and principles. Such intolerance towards criticism and unfounded attacks on media persons by the US President can have detrimental consequences for the freedom of the press in different parts of the world. These are tough times for journalists across the globe. With growing strife and conflict, rise in right-wing fundamentalism, more leaders with authoritarian tendencies, increasing intolerance and extreme polarisation of populations, reporters are facing enormous challenges each day. There is a concerning rise in hostility towards media persons for reporting the true picture which may not be in tune with the popular opinion.
According to Reporters Without Borders, there was a “deep and disturbing” decline in press freedom at a global level in 2016. According to a report by the international non-profit non-governmental organisation in December last year, 57 journalists were killed as a result of doing their jobs, 44 were being held hostage and 187 journalists remained behind bars across the world in 2016. The organisation, that advocates freedom of the press, said that the score of the Americas in the annual Press Freedom Index tumbled 20.5 per cent in the three years leading upto 2016, as a consequence of a rise in targeted violence against journalists in Central America and Mexico.
About 57 journalists were killed as a result of doing their jobs, 44 were being held hostage and 187 remained behind bars across the world in 2016, according to a latest report
The report stated that Europe and the Balkans, meanwhile, went down by 6.5 percent as a result of the expanding impact of ultraconservative governments and extremist movements. In Central Asia and eastern Europe, press freedom declined by 5 percent due to deteriorating conditions for free speech in nations under authoritarian leadership. Several countries such as Egypt, China and North Korea, that are already notorious for controlling the press, saw their scores drop even lower. Countries such as Poland, that have usually ranked high on the scale, shockingly nosedived this year as governments tightened control of state-owned media outlets. According to the report, India ranks 133 out of 180 countries on the Press Freedom Index.
In many other countries, increasingly authoritarian regimes have been tightening the noose around the media. In Turkey, after a coup was attempted President Recep Tayyip Erdogan has launched a witch-hunt against journalists, putting thousands of journalists behind bars on frivolous charges such as ‘insulting the President’ and raising ‘propaganda for a terrorist organisation’. In Philippines, President Rodrigo Duterte has openly warned reporters against criticising him, saying that journalists are not exempt from being assassinated. Journalist Larry Que was killed after writing a column criticising local officials for being negligent over an illegal drug factory while two other journalists were attacked and injured.
In Iran, award-winning journalist Narges Mohammadi was given imprisonment for 16 years on charges including “anti-government publicity”. In neighbouring China, the government is known for its crackdown on any dissent, while in Pakistan journalists routinely receive threats warning them to self-censor criticism of the military. In the Middle-Eastern conflict zones of Syria, Yemen and Iraq as well as in strife-torn African nations, many journalists risk their lives to bring out the truth to the world.
Even in India, media persons are time and again referred to as “presstitutes”, analogous with prostitutes, for reporting on matters that may go against some of the popular ideologies. There has been a growing debate on whether there is stifling of the freedom of expression, that is guaranteed by the Constitution, and the media is everybody’s favourite punching bag. The growing intolerance towards a free and fair press in our own country has resulted in desires of controlling the media which has led to a rise in the number of TV channels and news magazines that promote different political ideologies rather than do what a free press is duty-bound to do.
In such circumstances, if a world leader with capacity to reach every television and computer screen in the world makes irresponsible statements against the media, it will have irrevocable setbacks for those fighting for the rights of a free press that will ultimately benefit the world.
Unfortunately, there are many more blatant untruths that the new US President has unabashedly championed. In fact, it’s quite a coincidence that some parts of the US were hit by tornadoes around the time of Trump’s inauguration. I personally believe that natural calamities are signs for humans to pay attention to the havoc that has been wreaked upon the planet. Perhaps these tornadoes were warning us about what could happen when someone sceptical of climate change and of the journalists who report about it becomes one of the most powerful persons in the world.