Joel Simon is executive director of the Committee to safeguard Journalists. The views expressed in this commentary happen to be his own. This can be the up coming installment in the CNN View series on the problems facing the mass media, which is under attack from critics, governments and changing technology.
(CNN) For a limited period, following more than four years of military repression, Myanmar saw an explosion of independent mass media. From 2011, exiled journalists flooded back to the country and started latest publications. They covered the news, criticized the government and contributed to a nationwide debate.
However when I visited the country in June as part of a delegation from the Committee to safeguard Journalists, I observed serious backsliding. We met with the widow of a murdered journalist. We spoke with editors who informed us they worried about going to jail. Whenever we asked the government to amend a repressive regulation that means it is illegal to criticize persons online, they promised to do so. But their proposed reforms were modest , leaving set up a three-12 months sentence for those convicted of defamation. The government was also unmoved by our appeals to allow journalists better access to Rakhine state, where government forces are involved in a brutal advertising campaign against the Rohingya minority.
A month later, I was in Ukraine, also on a CPJ mission. Ukraine found a dramatic mass media opening following 2014 Maidan revolution, which brought down the country’s corrupt head, Viktor Yanukovych. But those moments of euphoria happen to be today a distant recollection. We have there been to push the government to research the murder of 1 of Ukraine’s leading reporters, Pavel Sheremet, blown up in a car bomb a year ago. But the region — and the mass media — happen to be deeply divided. The existing president, Petro Poroshenko, draws an alarming distinction between “patriotic” and “unpatriotic” mass media. And fewer and fewer persons believe in facts.
Myanmar and Ukraine are just two countries, nevertheless they are component of a worldwide trend. All over the world, press liberty is in steady decline , regarding to all of the latest surveys . Press liberty can vanish immediately — as has occurred in Venezuela and Egypt . Or it can gradually erode, as has occurred in Kenya Japan and Hungary
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What do you have to lose a free press? In my check out, there happen to be two facilitating factors: declining public assurance in the mass media and a polarizing political environment in which most don’t know what’s true and those who do know don’t care.
While we certainly are a long way from such a state in the US, this is no time for complacency. The First Amendment is unique in all the universe in providing legal safety for the broadest selection of speech.
But press freedom as experienced today in america is a comparatively recent construct. Just ask journalists who covered the Civil Rights motion in the South. Civil rights reporter Bill Minor, who died in March, recalled a time not that long ago when journalists confronted violence, harassment and legal assault — and the “Primary Amendment didn’t subject.” He mentioned one paper in Mississippi, The Lexington, which was bombed in reprisal for its reporting on law enforcement brutality of black people. Rather than investigating the crime, the neighborhood sheriff sued for libel.
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In fact, when it comes to press freedom, norms are just as significant as laws. There is absolutely no law needing that political leaders keep press conferences. It isn’t illegal to refuse to take concerns from a hardcore reporter. It isn’t a crime to insult journalists with whom you disagree.
Laws experience not changed in years in america, and the Supreme Courtroom continues to have a broad check out of the Primary Amendment. But our norms happen to be breaking down. We’ve a president who refers to journalists as enemies of the persons and characterizes stories he doesn’t like as false news. So far President Donald Trump and those who echo his views are not seeking to change the laws. They are seeking to change the culture.
THE UNITED STATES tradition of respect for press freedom concerns to people in america, but it addittionally matters to all those around the world who endure defend these rights, persons in places where they are under threat.
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At a July image op on the sidelines of the G-20 meeting in Germany, Russian President Vladimir Putin reportedly pointed to the assembled journalists and whispered to Trump, “Are these the ones who are insulting you?”
“Those are the ones,” Trump replied. They had a good laugh. But Russia is certainly a place where a large number of journalists have been murdered. There’s nothing funny about that.
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We need an American president who defends press freedom rather than mocks it. All over the world, journalists in spots like Myanmar and Ukraine risk their lives to report the news headlines. Do we as Americans value and respect their sacrifice? Or do we laugh in amusement as press liberty is rolled back, and journalists confront violence and repression?