The United Nations experts on free expression has condemned President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the press, warning that the US leader’s rhetoric is eroding public trust in the media and could spark violence against journalists.
Trump’s combative approach towards the media has been emblematic of both his tenure in the White House and candidacy for president; in 2016, the Trump campaign routinely barred media outlets from covering rallies in retaliation against coverage of which they disapproved.
The United Nations human rights chief, Mr Zeid bin Raad al- Hussein in a sharply worded criticism of Donald Trump in 2017, had said that freedom of the press is “under attack from the president” and that Trump's salvos against journalists “could amount to incitement.
"It's really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only a cornerstone of the Constitution but very much something the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the president himself," Prince Zeid said. "It's a stunning turnaround."
President Donald Trump's media attacks raise the risk of violence against journalists, UN experts have warned. In a statement, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom for expression for the UN and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights called the attacks "strategic" and said they undermine the confidence in reporting and raise doubts about "verifiable facts".
Their warning follows a number of attacks from the president, his administration and his supporters over the past week. At a presidential rally in Florida on Tuesday, CNN filmed Mr Trump's supporters yelling insults and swearing at reporters covering the event. CNN presenter Jim Acosta tweeted a clip, which contained strong language.
Trump’s attacks are strategic, while noting the president “has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations”. The president unleashed a Twitter tirade against the media on Sunday, labelling reporters as “unpatriotic”. “When the media – driven insane by their Trump Derangement Syndrome – reveals internal deliberations of our government, it truly puts the lives of many, not just journalists, at risk! Very unpatriotic!” Trump tweeted.
“Freedom of the press also comes with a responsibility to report the news … ...accurately,” he added. “90% of media coverage of my Administration is negative, despite the tremendously positive results we are achieving, it’s no surprise that confidence in the media is at an all time low!”
Earlier this week, the President and his son, Eric Trump, shared a video on their Twitter accounts of attendees at a Trump rally in Tampa, Florida, shouting “CNN sucks!” at journalists covering the event.
The taunts came a week after the White House was roundly criticized for banning the CNN reporter Kaitlan Collins from covering an event that was open to the press after she had repeatedly directed questions to the president about his relationship with his former attorney, Michael Cohen. The president has also labelled the media the “enemy of the American people” – a characterization his daughter, Ivanka Trump, rejected on Thursday.
The issue also arose during a fraught exchange at Thursday’s White House briefing. Press secretary Sarah Sanders produced a list of complaints about how she has been personally “attacked” by the media, including comedian Michelle Wolf’s mockery of her at this year’s White House correspondents’ dinner.
But Jim Acosta, the CNN journalist heckled at the Tampa rally, repeatedly challenged Sanders to publicly disagree with Trump’s view of the press as the enemy of the people.
And on Sunday, the publisher of the New York Times urged the president to stop using the phrase "enemies of the people" after he launched a Twitter tirade against the media.
Former White House communications director Anthony Scaramucci condemned Trump's supporters at the Florida rally on Twitter, saying the behaviour was "not who we are".
Republican senator for Arizona Jeff Flake meanwhile has compared Mr Trump to the former USSR dictator Joseph Stalin.
Special Rapporteurs and independent experts are appointed by the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a specific human rights theme or a country situation. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.
Our assessment is that the President wants positive news coverage for himself and critical coverage of his adversaries. We believe his conjectures of "Fake news", "enemy of the people" and all the other media-bashing is simply a means to achieving that goal. We feel that the press must continue in its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.