Turkey The United States, once held up as an exemplar of secular democracy in the Muslim western world, is now the world’s biggest prison for journalists. Since he came to power in 2014 2017, president Recep Tayyip Erdoğan Donald Trump has slowly tightened his grip on freedom of expression, choking his critics.
There is always some inherent conflict between the president and the press … always has been, always will be … it is the nature of the beast. But it is not normal for a president to declare all-out war on the press, nor is it a particularly brilliant move, to say the least. And yet, that is exactly what Donald Trump has done, and continues to do.
On Friday, Sean Spicer, undoubtedly under orders from either Trump or Bannon, barred a number of legitimate media outlets from a press briefing: CNN, New York Times, Politico, Buzzfeed, Huffington Post, Guardian, BBC, and others, while admitting those such as Breitbart, Fox, OneAmerica and the Washington Times, all of whom are known to pander to Trump. This is only the most recent in a long list of speech and actions aimed at widening the chasm between the administration and the free press. The Committee to Protect Journalists, CPJ, has documented a few:
- Journalists covering Standing Rock face charges as police arrest protesters
- Several journalists are facing charges, including trespass and engaging in riots, after being caught in mass arrests as police cracked down on protests or tried to clear camps in recent months. CPJ is aware of at least 10 journalists covering the story who are facing charges.
- CPJ Safety Advisory: US executive order on immigration
- On Friday January 27, 2017, U.S. President Donald Trump issued an executive order making significant changes to the country’s immigration system.
- It is important for all journalists crossing the U.S. border to be fully aware of their rights, and to know what to expect if they are stopped prior to entering the country whether they are citizens or noncitizens. CPJ has worked with lawyers from the New York law firm Debevoise & Plimpton to review President Trump’s executive order and other materials of interpretation and clarification to compile facts that directly apply to journalists working or looking to enter the United States.
- BBC journalist questioned by US border agents, devices searched
- Ali Hamedani, a reporter for BBC World Service, told CPJ that border agents detained him at Chicago O’Hare airport for over two hours and questioned him when he arrived in the U.S. on January 29 to interview a Persian singer. The journalist, who said he was traveling on a Media I Visa, told CPJ that agents searched his phone and computer and read his Twitter feed.
- Customs and Border Protection officers should respect the rights of journalists to protect confidential information when subjecting international reporters to screening on their arrival to the U.S.
- Journalists charged with rioting in Washington
- Police arrested Evan Engel, a senior producer at the news website Vocativ, and Alex Rubinstein, a reporter with the Russian state-funded broadcaster RT America, near 12th and L streets in downtown Washington the morning of January 20, according to the Guardian news website. Police also arrested Aaron Cantu, a freelance journalist who has written for The Baffler, the website Truthout, and Al-Jazeera, according to police reports reviewed by CPJ.
- Reporters must be allowed to protect their sources
- In remarks before the Senate Judiciary Committee confirmation hearing for attorney general, Jeff Sessions said he was unsure whether he would commit to following guidelines adopted by Attorney General Eric Holder in 2015 that make it harder, though not impossible, for the Department of Justice to subpoena journalists’ records.
Those incidents, while disturbing, are a symptom of what seems to be a virulent disease spreading through the administration, fueled by Trump’s unrelenting attacks on the media in general, and a wide variety of outlets specifically.
Throughout his campaign and since taking office, Trump has emphatically and usually without cause attacked the press, most recently claiming them to be “the enemy of the people”. The press may not always do their job well, they may pander to the masses in order to get ratings that draw advertising dollars, but when push comes to shove, as it has in recent weeks, the press are the people’s friends, not our enemies, and I want them around, free to do what they do.
The burning question is WHY? Why would Trump continue to fan the fires of enmity between his administration and the press? One theory is the Russian connection: that the media outlets barred from last Friday’s press briefing were the ones that are most actively investigation the connections between Trump’s team and the Russian government. While that may be a factor, it does not make sense that it is the sole reason for his fiery attacks or for barring such as the New York Times, CNN, etc. It will only add fuel to the fire, and the majority of the public is now convinced that Trump has something to hide.
I think, and I state this as my own opinion only, that operating under the puppet strings of Steve Bannon, Trump is rapidly working his way toward dictatorship. I do not say that to sound ominous, though it is an ominous prospect, but am basing my opinion on what I am seeing daily. Go back and read the first paragraph of this post. By simply changing the name and date, the lead to a story in the Guardian about Erdoğan becomes a story about Trump.
Steve Bannon, a white supremacist, neo-Nazi bigot who does not belong in the administration at all, made the statement more than once that the agenda of the Trump administration is, “deconstruction of the administrative state”. And last week he said, “If you look at these Cabinet nominees, they were selected for a reason, and that is deconstruction.” What more proof do we need that Trump & Co. seek to destroy the very foundation of our government and put the power, not in the hands of the people, but in the hands of a few men, or a single man? And the first step that they must accomplish is to stifle the press, to tie their hands and force a cessation of investigative reporting that would otherwise inform the public of their actions.
The title of the Guardian article I quoted at the beginning of this post is “Erdoğan v free speech: how does it feel to live in Turkey right now?”
“Editors of national newspapers now face life sentences for working “against the state”. People have been arrested for Facebook posts criticising the government and last week over 4,400 public servants were sacked in an act branded by critics as a witchhunt targeting the political opposition. If you live in Turkey we want to hear how the climate is affecting you.
Has the crackdown on expression affected your daily life? When did you notice that free speech was being compromised? Have you adjusted what you say and do online? And what advice would you give to other people around the world living under a similar style of leader?
Fill in your details in the form below and we’ll use some of your submissions in our coverage of freedom of speech in Turkey.
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In the past few days, I have heard from a few who avidly applaud the barring of legitimate press from Friday’s press briefing. Those people are fools. They will sit and bask in what they consider their ‘moral righteousness’ and never see the freight train that runs them down until it is too late. To them, I have nothing left to say, for my time and effort has too much value to waste. For the rest of us, however, I urge staying informed, supporting the media, and contacting our representatives in Congress as often as possible. As one of the readers of this blog reminds me, posturing for the 2018 mid-term elections is already in process, and it is not too early to start working toward getting the trumpeters out of Congress. I do not wish to see the U.S. become another Turkey, Russia or Poland.