How the world sees U.S. press freedom in Trump era

By Katie DeFiore, Penn State University

With the trust in the United States press dropping, something American journalists might not recognize is that the rest of the world is not only watching, but also reacting.

During the 2017 ASNE-APME-APPM conference in Washington on Monday, a panel of four editors representing Bangladesh, Jordan and U.S. press discussed how the rest of the world’s view of American journalism is shifting.

“It’s kind of like the parents who don’t think their children are watching if they’re sneaking out the back door to take a smoke,” said panel moderator Marty Steffens, who is the North American chair for the International Press Institute. “We need solidarity. We need to show the world that press freedom is alive and well here in the United States.”

The American panelists all stressed how the rising popularity of the term fake news has caused more problems for journalists than a decrease in the public’s trust.

Steffens said some key problems American journalists are facing include “access to data, physical and relentless #fakenews #failingmedia attacks, emboldened state and local officials and impunity in resisting journalist access.”

Daoud Kuttab, the director of Community Media Network in Jordan, said having the First Amendment doesn’t mean anything if journalists don’t enforce it and apply it on the ground.

“There’s nobody in the countries around the world following Washington more than dictators and autocratic leaders,” Kuttab said. “The moment they see that the issues of democracy are no longer of priority in the U.S., they feel they can do and get away with a lot more than what they normally get away with.”

Mahfuz Anam, the editor of the Daily Star in Bangladesh, said the fact that the president of the United States classifies journalists as criminals gives government officials in other countries a way to justify putting journalists in jail.

“We’re all used to being attacked by governments from different parts of the world, but we’re not used to being attacked by the president of the United States,” Anam said.  “The West actually used to inspire us in other parts of the world. But that sense of moral support is on the decline.”

He also said the United States press’ reputation suffered during the Iraq war, when the media justified the invasion of Iraq with talk of weapons of destruction.

“That triggered so many bad effects. Journalism in general suffered a huge demise,” Anam said. “Journalism has come a long way. We don’t need the type of basic training we needed 25 years ago, we need adherence to ethics as we’ve never needed before.”

Panel member Charles Sennot spoke about The Ground Truth, the nonprofit he co-founded to supply emerging journalists with the tools they need to tell the big news stories of their generation.

“I never in my life thought I would be training journalists with the same hostile environment and situational awareness training to those who went to Charlottesville so that they could be ready for a live shooter, ready for a violent demonstration,” Sennot said. “I’m used to doing that in Burma and Egypt — it’s right here.”

Katie DeFiore is a junior at Penn State University.

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