Time to support a free and independent press

We all knew when Trump was running for office that he holds a dim view of the press. Since being sworn into office just over one month ago now, he’s taken his disliking to a whole new level by regularly attacking the press, and this past week a number of news organisations, including The Guardian, The New York Times, The Los Angeles Times, CNN, Politico and BBC were excluded from attending a White House gaggle.

The fourth estate plays a vital role in a democracy. The press must inform citizens, for as Thomas Jefferson said, ‘An educated citizenry is a vital requisite for our survival as a free people.’[1] People who are poorly educated, ill- or mis-informed are unable to make well-informed decision or vote for representatives or laws that are in their best interest. Thus they can be easily led astray and controlled by their emotions, rather than their reason. We can see that this is a major contributing factor to the recent election of Donald Trump.

The press also serves to hold elected officials and those in power to account. Even former President G. W. Bush has spoken out against Trump by saying that, ‘we need an independent media to hold people like me to account. Power can be very addictive and it can be corrosive and, uh, it’s important for the media to call to account people who abuse their power whether it be here or elsewhere.’[2] By excluding those media outlets that have been critical of him and his administration, Trump and his entourage are attempting to censor the press and not allow it to freely report what is going on or hold them to account. This is a dangerous step that goes against the First Amendment and is undemocratic.

The Trump administration’s relationship with the media is an interesting one. On the one hand, just looking at Trump’s tweets alone, he has called the media ‘fake news’, the enemy of the American people’, ‘very, very dishonest’, ‘failing’, and ‘ the opposition party’, yet on the other hand he was quite happy to receive at least $3 billion worth of free media coverage during his campaign, more coverage than either Clinton or Sanders. [3] [4]

When Trump’s advisor Steve Bannon called the media ‘corporatist’ at the recently held Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) he was in part correct. Most of the US media is corporately owned and controlled by only a handful of uber rich individuals whose main objective for many years has been profit over information. They would prefer to cover the emotional stuff that sells a story and increases ratings, rather than concentrate on the real issues at hand.  This is especially true of those organisations that are right leaning.  This said, I’m not in any way defending Bannon’s perspective on the media, as what he wants is a subservient, controlled media that will report only what the Trump administration wants it to report, and from what we already know of what Trump and his administration say, much of this would be lies. Also it is very, very disturbing to see how this new administration is treating journalists out in the field who have been covering anti-government protests. Whether they be in Washington DC or North Dakota, journalists are being arrested and charged with felonies.[5] [6]

With the influence of corporate money not only in the media, but also in US elections over the years, as well as the power held by special interest groups and lobbyists, one could argue that the US has not really been that free or democratic, but what we are seeing now is the slippery slope down to a truly oligarchical rule.

My optimistic side says that there are those in the corporate media who have awakened to the fact that they played a significant role in getting Trump elected and they are now wanting to try to hold him to account to one extent or another.[7]   How they could ever hope to do this under the profit driven corporate model is another thing.  My pessimistic side says that the corporate media are far less concerned with trying to hold Trump and his administration to account than they are with defending the old status quo and trying to portray the Democratic Party as the upholders of democracy and freedom.

The point I’m trying to make is that in order for the media to be truly free and independent, to fulfil it’s role to inform and keep power in check, it must be outside the control of both an autocratic, leaning towards dictatorial government, and corporatism. Both of these powerhouses have their own agendas, whether it be the manipulation of the news for their political or economic advantage. Today more than ever the people need to support the progressive independent media – watch it, listen to it, read it, financially support it with your donations and share what you learn from it with others.   These news organisations are doing their utmost to present fact-based coverage of the big issues in a world where propaganda and alternative facts/lies can easily dominate. Here’s a list of just some places you can go to for real news: Democracy Now!, the Real News Network, The Intercept, Alternet, Mother Jones, Truthdig, Brave New Films, Salon, The Young Turks and the list goes on….

[1] https://www.monticello.org/site/jefferson/educated-citizenry-vital-requisite-our-survival-free-people-spurious-quotation

[2] http://www.independent.co.uk/news/world/americas/us-politics/george-bush-donald-trump-media-attack-enemy-people-nbc-today-a7602321.html

[3] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettedkins/2016/11/17/in-the-wake-of-trumps-win-how-does-the-media-regain-credibility/#569b13692ca5

[4] http://www.pbs.org/wgbh/frontline/article/study-election-coverage-skewed-by-journalistic-bias/

[5] https://www.theguardian.com/media/2017/jan/24/journalists-charged-felonies-trump-inauguration-unrest

[6] https://cpj.org/blog/2017/02/journalists-covering-standing-rock-face-charges-as.php#more

[7] https://www.forbes.com/sites/brettedkins/2016/11/17/in-the-wake-of-trumps-win-how-does-the-media-regain-credibility/#569b13692ca5

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