By Prudence Arobani
The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), a Journalists’ and press freedom campaign organisation based in the U.S., has named President Donald Trump as the winner of its award for ‘Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom’.
The CPJ said Trump emerged the overall winner at the award on Monday night in New York after he also emerged ‘Runner-Up’ to President Recep Erdoğan of Turkey, winner of the ‘Most Thin-skinned’ award.
Other awards were ‘Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press’ won also by Erdoğan; ‘Tightest Grip on Media’ – excluded countries with no independent media, such as North Korea and Eritrea -won by President Xi Jinping of China; and ‘Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom’ won by State Counsellor and de facto leader Aung Suu-Kyi of Myanmar.
President AbdelFattah al-Sisi of Egypt emerged ‘Runner-Up’ to Erdoğan for ‘Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press’; President Vladimir Putin of Russia emerged ‘Runner-Up’ for ‘Tightest Grip on Media’ award won by Xi; while President Andrzej Duda of Poland was ‘Runner-Up’ for ‘Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom’ won by Suu-Kyi.
The award was in response to Trump’s fake news awards, which he hinted on Tuesday last week that he would be announcing this week Monday, which he later shifted to Jan. 17.
Trump had on Jan. 2, said: “I will be announcing THE MOST DISHONEST & CORRUPT MEDIA AWARDS OF THE YEAR on Monday at 5 p.m..
“Subjects will cover Dishonesty & Bad Reporting in various categories from the Fake News Media. Stay tuned!”
However, on Sunday, he said: “The Fake News Awards, those going to the most corrupt & biased of the Mainstream Media, will be presented to the losers on Wednesday, Jan. 17, rather than this coming Monday. The interest in, and importance of, these awards is far greater than anyone could have anticipated!”
CPJ said “in response to media coverage critical of him, Trump has threatened to ‘open-up’ U.S. libel laws, sue news outlets, and subject their broadcast licenses to review.
He regularly attacks outlets and individual journalists on Twitter and in speeches, calling them ‘sad,’ ‘failing,’ or ‘garbage.’
Since declaring his presidential candidacy in 2015, Trump has posted about 1,000 tweets critical of the press.
CPJ research shows that when public figures and political leaders lob insults at the media, they encourage self-censorship and expose journalists to unnecessary risk”.
The journalists’ organisation said amid the public discourse of fake news and Trump’s announcement via Twitter about his planned “fake news” awards ceremony, CPJ was recognising world leaders who had gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that supported freedom of the media.
“From an unparalleled fear of their critics and the truth, to a relentless commitment to censorship, these five leaders and the runner-ups in their categories have gone above and beyond to silence critical voices and weaken democracy,” CPJ said of the award winners.
While explaining the rationale for giving Trump the award, CPJ said the U.S., with its First Amendment protection for a free press, had long stood as a beacon for independent media around the world.
CPJ said: “while previous U.S. presidents have each criticised the press to some degree, they have also made public commitments to uphold its essential role in democracy, at home and abroad.
“Trump, by contrast, has consistently undermined domestic news outlets and declined to publicly raise freedom of the press with repressive leaders such as Xi, Erdoğan, and Sisi.
“Authorities in China, Syria, and Russia have adopted Trump’s “fake news” epithet, and Erdoğan has applauded at least one of his verbal attacks on journalists.
“Under Trump’s administration, the Department of Justice has failed to commit to guidelines intended to protect journalists’ sources, and the State Department has proposed to cut funding for international organisations that help buttress international norms in support of free expression.
“As Trump and other Western powers fail to pressure the world’s most repressive leaders into improving the climate for press freedom, the number of journalists in prison globally is at a record high”.
On Erdoğan, CPJ said Turkish authorities had repeatedly charged journalists, news outlets, and social media users for insulting Erdoğan, insulting other Turkish leaders, and insulting “Turkishness” in general adding: “Turkey is the world’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 73 behind bars when CPJ conducted its most recent prison census on Dec. 1, 2017.
Of the Egyptian leader, CPJ said of at least 20 journalists jailed in Egypt at the time of CPJ’s latest prison census, 18 were charged with, or convicted of, anti-state crimes such as aiding or inciting terrorism or belonging to banned groups.
For Xi, CPJ decried that Beijing, under his increasingly iron grip, used a combination of traditional censorship and internet controls to keep the news media in line adding China is consistently one of the world’s worst jailers of the press, being the second worst globally, with at least 41 journalists in prison in 2017.
Under Putin, it said independent media had been all but eradicated as journalists experience threats of violence or imprisonment and other types of harassment.
CPJ also said that in Myanmar, most of the legal structure that had long restricted the press remained in place and journalists continued to be imprisoned adding, security officials obstruct and harass journalists trying to cover what the UN has termed “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing” by authorities in the country’s northern Rakhine State.
CPJ said under Duda, the government had taken direct control of public media and announced plans to change regulations in a way that would force foreign owners of news outlets to give up their majority stakes.
The organisation added that government offices had cancelled subscriptions to pro-opposition news outlets, while state-owned companies redirected advertising money to friendly media.