An unprecedented scenario has occurred during the presidency of Donald Trump in history of the United States of America as more than 350 newspapers jointly spoke for press freedom. All the newspapers brought out editorials on August 16 to hit back at the messy campaign by President Donald Trump against news media since his inauguration as 45th President on January 20, 2017.The news media campaign against the President has been initiated by Boston Globe which lamented by saying, "a central pillar of President Trump's politics has been sustained assault on free press. The greatness of America is dependent on the role of a free press to speak the truth to the powerful". This newspaper further added that to label the press as the enemy of the people is as "an un- American as it is dangerous to the civic compact we have shared for more than two centuries". Possibly two newspapers: The Wall Street Journal and San Francisco Chronicle did not join the chorus. The latter explained that going with the editorial crowd is against the independence of the newspaper.
The Portland Press Herald said that a free and independent press is the best defence against tyranny while IOWA's popular newspaper Des Moines had the opinion that true enemies of the people and democracy are those who try to suffocate truth by vilifying and demonising the message. The Chicago Sun Times held that most Americans know that Trump was talking nonsense.
The concept of freedom of press, adopted in the 18th century, has been prevailing in many parts of the world except possibly in China, North Korea, Russia, where dictatorial regimes have taken power by hook or crook. Freedom of the press is one of the most important human rights related to access to information. Thomas Jefferson, one of the founder members of the United States and writer of Declaration of Independence, had reportedly said: "our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." This was indeed a forceful assertion by the third President of the United States of America which means freedom of press is vitally important for national interests. Thomas Jefferson also said, "...were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I shall not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."
Freedom of the press has become a constitutional obligation in some countries, including the USA. However, governments in some countries distinguish certain information as sensitive, classified or secret based on classified information. Many governments are subjected to sunshine laws or freedom of information legislation that are generally used to define ambit of national interests.
In the USA, the concept of freedom of press was actually identified during the American revolution by revolutionary leaders. The Virginia declaration of rights of 1775 proclaimed that freedom of press is one of the greatest bulwarks of liberty and can never be restrained but by despotic governments. The constitution of Massachusetts, another member of Commonwealth of the United States, declared in 1780 that the liberty of the press is essential for the security of freedom in a state; it ought not, therefore, be restrained in this commonwealth. Therefore, freedom of press has been reflected in the first amendment of the constitution of the USA.
Trump is not the only President of USA to confront the news media of the USA. In the recent past, as many as nine US presidents tussled with news media. However, Trump is the exception as he has has launched vigorous campaigns against news media since taking oath of office. Trump categorised much of the news media as 'fake news', castigating them as enemy of the people. Personnel of some news channels are barred from attending daily press briefing in the White house. President Trump is possibly the only president who has intentionally skipped the Whitehouse Correspondent's Annual Dinner since 2017. Presidents Nixon and Jimmy Carter skipped once each.
The Republican dominated Senate passed an unanimous resolution on August 16 in favour of freedom of news media which, among other things, focussed directly at affirming congress support of the first amendment of the constitution. It condemned attacks on the free press which undermines the reliability of journalists and the press as a national institute. In response, Trump tweeted on August 16 that fake news media has become opposition party which is pushing a political agenda or just plain trying to hurt people.
It is an irony that the President of the United States has been undermining not only news media but also one of the world's prominent communities of intellectuals. Such a situation does not reflect a good 'health' of the USA at the time. It implies that the country is facing a grave dilemma.
Mohammad Amjad Hossain, retired diplomat from Bangladesh and former President of Toastmaster International Club of America, writes from Virginia.
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