What does the future look like for the American Press?
We need to make a change in this country regarding the press.
As we celebrate World Press freedom day, I am reminded of two recent such anniversaries during the Trump years; one in which I celebrated by talking to the FBI and local law enforcement after a Trump supporter threatened my life, and one in which I was talking to my attorney about the lawsuit I filed against Donald Trump for taking away my press pass.
Today I celebrate it unable to visit the White House on a daily basis - as the job dictates - because of the restrictions on attendance due to the coronavirus pandemic.
According to the group Reporters without Borders, the United States sports just the 44th freest country for journalists. The country that enshrined press freedom in the First Amendment is a long way from being number one in the world in supporting that venture.
The Poynter Institute, quoting a recent study from the Radio and Television Digital News Association noted that local television news directors reports one in five stations had employees who were assaulted on the job. Some 86 percent of news directors purchased bulletproof vests and gas masks for their employees and sent security teams with reporters more often.
The attacks are most likely to occur at protests or outdoor gatherings from a variety of sources - the public and the police. Police have recently arrested reporters at a variety of locations during protests, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom the Press recently published a reporter’s guide to help journalists understand their rights at protests and how to avoid arrests.
The Freedom of Assembly notwithstanding, Minnesota police promised as recently as two weeks ago not to detain or pepper spray journalists covering the shooting of Daunte Wright.
Certain members of the public really don’t care if reporters are assaulted. Some of them would like to join in. But it would be well if those people looked at it this way: If the government - any government - is willing to assault or demean reporters - who operate in the open and with a higher profile than many citizens, then how do you think that government will do to you?
The fact is police officers like convicted murder Derek Chauvin are not created out of thin air. They’re created out of the thick air of oppression and division aimed at dividing and conquering all of us. It isn’t just a clever play on words to say an attack on one of us is an attack on all of us. It’s the truth.
Journalists, with a front row view of history - good and bad - are being attacked because some of us want to keep the rest of us from seeing what is going on. It’s that simple fact of manipulation that Donald Trump admitted to when he was interviewed four years ago by Leslie Stahl. He discredits us so no one will believe us when we tell the truth about him. Trump isn’t the only practitioner of that dark art, but he’s certainly influenced and encouraged others by his example.
Today as we celebrate World Press Freedom, we need to come to grips with one overriding concerns: No one was punished for murdering, dismembering and cremating journalist Jamal Khashoggi. He worked for an American Newspaper and lived in America and was killed by agents working for the Saudi Government. The Trump administration failed to act on the murder, and with some well-meaning consolation, so has President Joe Biden.
Of course Trump wouldn’t accept that the Crown Prince of Saudi Arabia Mohammed Bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s death and tried to discredit all the evidence and intelligence gathering worldwide that showed this to be a fact. Biden, on the other hand, holds MBS responsible, but just won’t talk to him on the phone.
What the United States needs is a Presidential Blue Ribbon commission with scholars, reporters, editors, legislators and media owners to discuss the problematic nature of a free press in this country and what can do to improve press freedom.
The free press in the United States is in danger. Donald Trump didn’t create this problem. He is merely a symptom. Getting rid of the fairness doctrine, implementing the Telecommunications Act, the Patriot Act and the prosecution of whistle blowers under the espionage act in the last half century, as well as the consolidated ownership of the media - all of these are the direct result of government action.
President Biden released a statement on the occasion of World Press Freedom Day in which he said, “Journalists uncover the truth, check the abuse of power, and demand transparency from those in power. They are indispensable to the function of a democracy.”
If those aren’t just empty words from the current occupant of the White House, then we need more action and fewer platitudes. “We recognize the integral role a free press plays in building prosperous, resilient and free societies. And we recommit to protecting and promoting free, independent, and diverse media around the world.”
How in your plans to “Build Back Better,” does recommitting to protecting the press fit in?
What will you do?
We are at a turning point in the United States. There are, according to another report from the Poynter Institute, released on May 3, 1300 communities in the United States that have lost all news coverage. About 1800 metro and community newspapers have merged or gone out of business in the last 17 years. Hundreds have scaled back coverage. Hedge fund investors continue to buy newspapers, gut the coverage and sell off the assets.
Celebrating Press Freedom is a joke if we don’t do something to ensure the free press continues to exist.
President Joe Biden has a unique opportunity. He’d better take advantage of it, or in the coming years, we won’t be celebrating a free press in this country at all.
Brian J. Karem