GENEVA/WASHINGTON (2 August 2018) – UN and Inter-American experts on freedom of expression have condemned U.S. President Donald Trump’s repeated attacks on the free press and urged him and his administration to cease efforts to undermine the media’s role of holding government accountable, honest and transparent.
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” said David Kaye and Edison Lanza, the Special Rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights, respectively.
The President has labelled the media as being the “enemy of the American people” “very dishonest” or “fake news,” and accused the press of “distorting democracy” or spreading “conspiracy theories and blind hatred”.
“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law,” the experts said. “We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
Kaye and Lanza said that, over the course of his presidency, Mr. Trump and others within his administration have sought to undermine reporting that had uncovered waste, fraud, abuse, potential illegal conduct, and disinformation.
“Each time the President calls the media ‘the enemy of the people’ or fails to allow questions from reporters from disfavoured outlets,” the experts added, “he suggests nefarious motivations or animus. But he has failed to show even once that specific reporting has been driven by any untoward motivations.
“It is critical that the U.S. administration promote the role of a vibrant press and counter rampant disinformation. To this end, we urge President Trump not only to stop using his platform to denigrate the media but to condemn these attacks, including threats directed at the press at his own rallies.
“The attack on the media goes beyond President Trump’s language. We also urge his entire administration, including the Department of Justice, to avoid pursuing legal cases against journalists in an effort to identify confidential sources, an effort that undermines the independence of the media and the ability of the public to have access to information.
“We urge the Government to stop pursuing whistle-blowers through the tool of the Espionage Act, which provides no basis for a person to make an argument about the public interest of such information.
“We stand with the independent media in the United States, a community of journalists and publishers and broadcasters long among the strongest examples of professional journalism worldwide. We especially urge the press to continue, where it does so, its efforts to hold all public officials accountable.”
The experts encouraged all media to act in solidarity against the efforts of President Trump to favour some outlets over others.
“Two years of attacks on the press could have long term negative implications for the public’s trust in media and public institutions,” Kaye and Lanza said. “Two years is two years too much, and we strongly urge that President Trump and his administration and his supporters end these attacks.”
* The experts: Mr. David Kaye, as UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms. Special Procedures mandate-holders are independent human rights experts appointed by the Human Rights Council to address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. They are not UN staff and are independent from any government or organization. They serve in their individual capacity and do not receive a salary for their work.
Mr. Edison Lanza is the IACHR Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression. The Office of the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Expression was created by the IACHR to encourage the defence of the right to freedom of thought and expression in the hemisphere, given the fundamental role this right plays in consolidating and developing the democratic system.