US President Donald Trump called news agencies "the enemy of the people." Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro described the journalists as вЂњrottenвЂќ and вЂњimmoral,вЂќ and accused them of sensational attacks on him. Mexican President Andres Manuel Lopez Obrador called them вЂњconservatives, know-it-alls, hypocritesвЂќ...
Leaders love the media, which allows them to spread their own ideas. But they hate journalists who ask uncomfortable questions and seek to hold them accountable. That is why they should be protected.
The Trump administration drastically reduced press access to the White House. She also withdrew or suspended the accreditation of many journalists, based on such incorrect or non-transparent arguments that the court ordered them to be restored.
Later, Donald Trump took another step. The issues of various magazines and newspapers, from the Financial Times to The New York Post, have long been delivered to the White House daily. This is a standard operating procedure in a democracy: centers of power should be well informed, which means subscribing to all types of media, regardless of their editorial position.
Trump, however, in October decided that neither the Washington Post nor The New York Post, the publications he often accused of biasing and twisting facts, would no longer be delivered to the White House. вЂњThey're fake,вЂќ he said in an interview with Fox News, in which he announced his decision. The Trump administration is calling on other federal agencies to also cancel their subscriptions.
A week after TrumpвЂ™s decision, Bolsonaro followed suit, canceling all government subscriptions for Folha de S. Paulo, one of BrazilвЂ™s most respected newspapers. вЂњI do not want to know about Folha de S. Paulo,вЂќ said Bolsonaro. According to him, reading this newspaper "poisons the government."
In Mexico, meanwhile, AMLO cut its government budget for media advertising, primarily in publications critical of the government, such as Reforma. AMLO accused the newspaper of supporting its previous administrations and working in the interests of third parties. The implications of this move are particularly significant in Mexico, where the media is often dependent on government advertising.
Mexico is also one of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. It is unlikely that the president will feel safer considering them opponents.
The use of public resources to punish the media for unflattering editorial positions is the responsibility of dictators. Turning newspaper subscriptions, media ads, and journalists' access to officials are tantamount to an attack on freedom of the press, expression, and information, which obviously poses a serious threat to democracy.
For example, Hugo Chavez, who ruled Venezuela for 14 years, mercilessly attacked the press, trying to undermine its authority and pass it off as an enemy of the people. By promoting his own version of events and creating a hostile environment for independent media, he achieved "the hegemony of communication."
Chavez's successor, Nicolas Maduro, has chosen the same tactics. In recent years, more than 50 newspapers have stopped printing, reduced the frequency of publication (from daily to weekly), or drastically reduced the number of pages and print runs, partly because the authorities blocked the import of newsprint. Add to this direct pressure from the government (such as lawsuits) and economic collapse (including hyperinflation). As a result, the free media of Venezuela is virtually destroyed.
It is no coincidence that Venezuela under Chavez and Maduro suffered from catastrophic economic policies, large-scale corruption, and widespread nepotism. Today Venezuela is a full-fledged dictatorship, where political opponents of the government are detained, and protesters face brutal repression.
Thus, Venezuela is a good example of why the attacks of Trump, Bolsonaro, and AMLO on the media should be taken seriously. All media outlets must fight back, including challenging prohibitions in national and international courts. Journalists with the support of public organizations can implement initiatives at the local level aimed at protecting the rights and freedoms of citizens and the media.
Non-governmental organizations can also help not only by categorically expressing their opposition but also by collecting and publishing data on media freedom. Civil society should contribute to the full protection of the media when citizens participate in joint initiatives with the media and their advocates.
The enemy of the free press is the enemy of democracy. We cannot say that we were not warned.