The Presidency of Donald Trump is unlike any Presidency that has preceded it in virtually every way. The Trump relationship with the media has got ever more tendentious as his days in office extend. He was combative with the media, especially those organisations he perceived as ’unfriendly’ to him whilst on the campaign trail and he has ratcheted up the war of words since being sworn in. ‘Fake news’ and ‘alternative facts’ are now part of the daily diet of Trumpisms that the world beyond the West Wing has to try to make sense of.
The latest development is truly worrying as it is a clear infringement of press and media freedoms that have long been cherished in America, with the press and media given almost daily access to the White House and its inner workings. This access has continued for decades, and has sometimes been adversarial as is right and proper in a functioning democracy. But not any more.
It may well be that Friday 24th February 2017 is marked down as a watershed moment in the relationship between the White House and the media as it was the day that a range of news organisations were banned from an off-camera briefing that was held by the White House press secretary. Thus it was that reporters from CNN, The New York Times, the BBC, The Los Angeles Times and Politico among others found themselves excluded. Those that got through the door included Reuters, CBS and Bloomberg and Breitbart all of which are perceived rightly or wrongly as supportive of Mr Trump. Some news organisations boycotted the briefing in protest.
If this is the shape of things to come then the people of America and the rest of the world need to be very worried. The authoritarian, nay dictatorial, control of the media message has long been recognised as symptomatic of a state that is intolerant of criticism. The Trump administration is perceived as being particularly thin-skinned and these exclusions bode ill. It is to be hoped that the media push back — though where this may take them if they do is an unlit portal.
Published in The Express Tribune, February 27th, 2017.
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