INJUSTICE anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere, Martin Luther King Jr said. For this reason, this newspaper today joins hundreds of media houses around the world in condemning, in the strongest possible terms, US President Donald Trump’s attacks on the free press.
Trump’s conduct has gone far beyond the margins of fair comment. Long before his presidency began, he mocked a reporter with a disability. Then, once in power, he began a campaign in which he described media houses as “the enemy of the people,” attacked specific networks and reporters, dismissed incisive reporting as “fake news” and has in the process, according to the outgoing UN human rights commissioner, Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein, increased the likelihood of harm being inflicted on journalists. This is a president who initially declined to order flags at half-mast after the Capital Gazette massacre.
The matter extends beyond the US. Trump’s actions set a dangerous precedent for dictators everywhere. Indeed, according to al-Hussein, Cambodian leader Hun Sen used language similar to Trump’s when he closed down independent media organisations. Trump has also failed to stand up to authoritarian, anti-media despots such as Vladimir Putin and has weakened America’s standing with countries lacking a free media like China and North Korea.
We in TT are fortunate to have freedom of the press enshrined in our Constitution. It is a freedom we hold dear and jealously guard. There have been dark times in our post-independence history when that freedom has been subject to serious challenge, such as the July 1990 attack on the state broadcaster. Yet the degree of animosity and vitriol currently emanating from the White House is something we are yet to witness and, hopefully, never will. There is good reason to compare Trump to Henry II, who incited supporters to murder a troublesome priest.
We do not claim the media are perfect. That is why the media must be free: so that all sides will always have an opportunity to air their story. It is only when this delicate balance is maintained that we can hope to find the truth.
It is not for us to intervene in the affairs of another sovereign state. But on a matter as universally important as press freedom, we strongly urge the US president and his supporters to take a cue from Graham Greene, who once said, “Don’t despise your enemies, they have a case.”
Today, however, we say in no uncertain terms that the media are not the enemy of the people. Rather, the real enemy of the people is the one who, elected to power without attaining the popular vote, sits in the world’s most powerful seat and scorns the women and men who, daily, work to serve one cause: the public interest.