Around the world, there has been an attack on the media in countries everywhere that experience democratic backsliding. In places like Turkey, Venezuela, Poland and many more, the media remains under attack in most places around the world, with the only states with true freedom of the press being concentrated in North America and Western Europe. But even we are not safe. Freedom House reports our freedom of the press score to be falling since 2006, and basically every major media outlet has picked up on the major threat the Donald Trump poses in his attempts to delegitimize the news here in the United States. Given all of this, what are some of the signs and symptoms seen around the world, and is the attack on the media in the United States as bad as it is elsewhere?
There are a few tactics that are used around the world when attacking the press, some of them are shared with the U.S., others are not. Something we all should be familiar with is delegitimizing through rhetoric. Others include more aggressive/outright means like using political influence against media outlets, and in some cases imprisonment of journalists.
In the United States we can see much more mild practices that go against the media when comparing it with the rest of the world. While the media everywhere poses the same type of threat to political leaders by scrutinizing that which needs scrutiny, it appears that instead of outright physical attacks, Donald Trump has found himself on a verbal crusade. And limits himself there. Around the world you see the same thing happening. President Erdogan of Turkey calling journalists “Shameless militant women disguised under the name of journalist” or the prime minister of Slovakia calling journalists “dirty, anti-slovak prostitutes.” Both of these examples are just the same method that Donald Trump adopts when calling the media “the most dishonest human beings on earth.” That method being, verbally disassociating the media with the people by making them appear to be dishonest and untrustworthy. This is very similar to forms of toxic speech practices which is defined by Lynne Tirrell as using harmful language as a systemic form of control in which it can promote almost a type of discrimination against news sources that do not align with a given individuals beliefs about the president or his administration.
The similarities of media attacks between the United States seems to end at the verbal front. Donald Trump’s “fake news” slogan is about all he has in terms of teeth in terms of trying the discredit the media. When looking through the lense of foreign countries, it is easy to see that there is not much Trump has really accomplished in terms of media repression. In countries like Turkey, not only is there rhetoric that slanders opposition/objective news sources, there are actual physical arrests and government ordered shut downs of news outlets. After the attempted coup in 2016, president Erdogan declared a state of national emergency that has been in effect since. With this, he has the power to close news outlets and and confiscate their ground assets in the name of “national security.” This has resulted in 130 media outlets being closed and 2,500 journalists losing their jobs. In a personal interview with a Turkish individual, he mentioned that it feels like all the news sources you find on television are state ran sources, with real genuine news being quite scarce or nonexistent. He also reports strong acts against the few news sources that appear to be objective or in opposition to the regime. All of this does not go without its ethnic issues as well. Another issue that is plaguing Turkey is president Erdogan’s inclination to target Kurdish television news sources, magazines and newspapers. While there is no ethnicity aligned news source in the United States (excluding news sources on TV networks that are aimed a certain demographic i.e. univision), there are ethnicity struggles that can of course be translated between the two countries, but no ethnic media outlet struggles that are anywhere near the magnitude of Turkey.
The United States is in a tough spot currently because of the multitude of threats to democratic norms and institutions. The way the media has been treated is no exception. The media has been a cornerstone for democracy everywhere because of what it does best. Whistle blowing and asking questions that holds people accountable for their actions, like the publication of pentagon papers to expose the falsehoods of the Vietnam war, or through exposing the catholic church’s sexual abuse. The media is an important piece of our democracy and it is under fire. Although the pillar is not crumbling like it is in Turkey, it will soon enough if the trend continues.