Trump raises the stakes on media freedom
Former President threatens to cancel the licences of media outlets he perceives to be critical of him should he be reelected in 2024
29 Sep 23

Donald Trump speaking at the 2014 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland. Photo: Gage Skidmore/ CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED

The threats to freedom of expression are multifaceted and seem to be coming from all directions. Every day we hear about a new international threat to freedom of expression, a new SLAPP or a new campaign to silence or cancel. These threats are compounded by those who are seeking to spread misinformation and propaganda campaigns to shape the national and international narrative to suit their purposes.

From the dark recesses of the internet and the spread of deep fake videos to trolls spreading disinformation and national governments, usually the tyrants, attempting to control information sources and restricted access to media.

However, we expect protections against these threats from our democratically elected leaders and the countries that they run. Take the United States, with all the protections afforded by the First Amendment. Donald Trump and his administration unfortunately never seem to have got the memo. As president he attacked the media every day and undermined the cross-party consensus that has afforded journalists protection for over 200 years. And he hasn’t changed his stance since he left office, attacking mainstream media outlets who dare to do their job and challenge his version of reality.

And this week he has taken these attacks a step further, threatening to withdraw the licences of those media outlets he perceives to be critical of him should he be reelected in the 2024 presidential election. He literally threatened to shut them down, naming NBC and MSNBC as his initial targets.

It’s not even clear that the President has the power to do this. But the threats alone are enough to undermine media freedom in the US.

In Trump’s eyes, critical media is dishonest, corrupt and lying. He’s even accused them of treason in his angry posts on TruthSocia, his own social media platform. This attitude towards the media has an incredibly damaging effect on democracy; we’ve seen it happen in country after country. Afterall it wasn’t too long ago that President Putin was referring to critical media in Russia as liars and traitors – and now there is no independent media left within Russia’s borders.

Can you imagine a situation in which NBC News and MSNBC have to operate outside the US’s borders? Sadly, Russia has shown us that the independent media can disappear in no time at all.

Independent journalism is a key element of every democracy. Journalists provide the ultimate check and balance to power. They can shine a spotlight on corruption and speak truth to power. And of course, with that power they have the responsibility to report the news objectively and impartially.

But in turn for their professionalism and impartiality we have a duty to support them against attacks from those with an agenda. Media freedom is the first defence of our democracy. We must all stand against Donald Trump’s ongoing threats and make it clear that media freedom is vital at home and abroad.

By Ruth Anderson

CEO at Index On Censorship