As a symptom of deteriorating democratic institutions and norms, the erosion of press freedoms is currently a serious, worldwide issue. Muftah has extensively covered this issue, particularly the arrests of journalists and government annexation of independent media outlets in Turkey. Notwithstanding these very dire threats to press freedom abroad, Americans need to remain vigilant about serious threats to media independence developing at home. We currently have an executive branch that belittles, threatens, or undermines the work of journalists and media outlets on nearly a daily basis. This has empowered regional and local politicians and powerful figures to wield their own threats, or worse, against journalists.
To keep track of incidents and cases threatening U.S. press, concerned individuals should regularly check the U.S. Press Freedom Tracker website. The website is led by the Freedom of the Press Foundation and the Committee to Protect Journalists, in partnership with more than two dozen other press and free speech non-profits, foundations, and societies, including the Index on Censorship, PEN America, and Reporters Without Borders. The site is partially funded by a settlement agreement between Guardian Reporter Ben Jacobs and Montana Congressman Greg Gianforte, who attacked Jacobs for asking Gianforte questions during his Congressional campaign. In exchange for Jacobs agreeing not to bring a suit against Gianforte, the Congressman issued a letter of apology and donated $50,000 to the Committee to Protect Journalists, per Jacobs’ request.
That stats displayed prominently at the top of the Press Freedom Tracker home page are chilling. Thus far, in 2017, there have been thirty-one journalists arrested; twenty incidents in which recording equipment was taken or damaged by law enforcement officials; thirty-one incidents where journalists were physically attacked by either protesters or politicians; and five incidents where journalists were stopped at international borders. The site also records other troubling incidents, such as increasingly frequent, chilling statements made by the White House about the press and journalists, refusals by police, courts or political aids to allow journalist access to cover public places or events, and cases where the government has charged journalists with leaking allegedly classified information.
Press Freedom Tracker takes a non-partisan approach to its work and notes that “many of the trends that this site will document—such as prosecutions of alleged leakers—increased dramatically under the Obama administration.” This is a prescient reminder that in an age where means, methods, and the very identity of journalism are rapidly changing, it is important to speak out about threats to freedom of speech, press, and information no matter who is president.