While Donald Trump is slagging the media and creating his alternate fact universe, journalists around the globe are risking life and limb in multiple hot spots to get the story out.
By SHEILA COPPS
First published in The Hill Times on May 14, 2018.
OTTAWA—Earlier this month, the planet commemorated World Press Freedom Day, launched by the United Nations in the last century.
The recognition, proclaimed by the General Assembly in 1993, coincided with the anniversary of the Declaration of Windhoek, a statement by African journalists about the importance of the free press.
The UN says the day is an “opportunity to: celebrate the fundamental principles of press freedom; assess the state of press freedom throughout the world; defend the media from attacks on their independence; and pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the line of duty.”
The Globe and Mail published an homage to those who had been killed. I was shocked at how many journalists around the world were snuffed out in pursuit of truth. The list did not even include those who were injured because they were just doing their jobs.
Last week, Montenegrin journalist Olivera Lakic was shot in the leg outside her home. It was the crime reporter’s second brush with violence. She was attacked six years ago, one of 25 such assaults on reporters and editors working for Vijesti, an independent daily newspaper in the capital of Podgorica.
According to media reports, the newspaper’s general manager has accused the government of characterizing journalists as traitors and state enemies.
Lakic was writing about alleged murky business dealings by top officials in the government, including those in the ruling Democratic Party of Socialists.
The Montenegro experience is not top of mind in this part of the world. But its resemblance to what is happening south of the border is eerie. Just last week, American president Donald Trump took to Twitter to denounce the bad coverage he has been receiving from traditional media outlets.
The new threats were simply the continuation of an ongoing attack on the press. At the beginning of this year, he tweeted a Trump-proposed version of journalism awards. “I will be announcing the most dishonest & corrupt media awards of the year. … Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!”
More recently, the president was ruminating on Twitter that he would consider revoking White House press accreditation for journalists who insist on criticizing him. According to the president, “The Fake News is working overtime. Just reported that, despite the tremendous success we are having with the economy & all things else, 91% of the Network News about me is negative (Fake). Why do we work so hard in working with the media when it is corrupt? Take away credentials?”
The American president has been largely successful in feeding public skepticism about the fourth estate. Credible news organizations have even been forced to take out ads in broadcast and print media, defending their fact checking and truth-telling.
Most people have already forgotten that “alternate facts” were introduced into the lexicon on the day Trump was sworn into office. He claimed the largest turnout for a presidential inauguration ever. But the pictures told a different story. The crowd gathered in Washington and watching from around the world was only one-third the size of his predecessor, America’s first black president Barack Obama.
While Trump is slagging the media and creating his alternate fact universe, journalists around the globe are risking life and limb in multiple hotspots to get the story out.
In the multi-channel universe, citizens are faced with a startling array of confusing and contradictory claims. Because more time is spent culling internet-based news, like-minded people are sharing a narrow band of conversation, which is not often mindful of the facts.
People are out on Twitter, and Facebook, communicating with those who agree with them and unfriending those who don’t. There isn’t much room in that space for competing perspectives.
Trump himself publicly suggested he should receive the Nobel Peace Prize on the same day that he unilaterally pulled the United States out of the Iran denuclearization deal, notwithstanding the pleas of his closest allies.
Surely, a destabilized Iran is not going to advance the cause of much-needed peace in that part of the world. Notwithstanding the danger of Trump’s move, 18 of his Republican colleagues have nominated the president for the Nobel Prize for his success in getting North Korea to the negotiating table.
The release of three Americans last week was certainly a win for Trump. But from that to the awarding of a Nobel Prize is quite a leap.
The truth gap in Trump’s alternate universe is simply too great.
Sheila Copps is a former Jean Chrétien-era cabinet minister and a former deputy prime minister. Follow her on Twitter at @Sheila_Copps.