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Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 September 2018

Now, more than ever, the truth needs its champions

It is right that the US media is taking a stand against Trump’s campaign of disinformation

Branded "enemy of the people" by US President Donald Trump, the US news media is responding with a campaign aimed at countering the president's narrative and highlighting the importance of a free press. Rhona Wise / AFP
Branded "enemy of the people" by US President Donald Trump, the US news media is responding with a campaign aimed at countering the president's narrative and highlighting the importance of a free press. Rhona Wise / AFP

What is the news media for? It seems an obvious question, but on the day that 300 American outlets have joined forces to publish editorials in response to attacks on their credibility by their own president, it is one worth considering. Donald Trump has repeatedly maligned the mainstream media as “the enemy of the people”, disseminating ‘‘fake, fake disgusting news”.

To paraphrase this morning’s pushback, orchestrated by The Boston Globe, the press isn’t the enemy of the people. It is the people.

Being prepared to question Mr Trump is part of the journalist’s job description – a role never more important than in this era of, as it were, “real” fake news. Without a press to filter fact from fiction and to speak truth unto power there is no check on political or commercial expediency, no anchor to prevent a steady drift towards moral compromise. Around the world there is a sorry history of journalists being demonised, attacked and even murdered.

Turkey is one of the worst offenders, jailing a record number of journalists. And Myanmar continues to imprison two reporters for their work on the Rohingya. From Malta to Brazil, members of the press have been murdered already this year.

The US media, protected since 1791 by the First Amendment, has often appeared immune. But now, according to the United Nations, Mr Trump’s efforts to “undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts ... increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence”.

It is 101 years since the prize for journalistic excellence, founded by newspaperman Joseph Pulitzer, was first awarded. And this year’s winners were the latest in a long and distinguished line to demonstrate the immense value of the media.

In the pages of his own paper, The New York World, Pulitzer himself fought many battles against corruption in government and business. “Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together,” he wrote in 1904.

At this pivotal moment, when norms and decency so often lie in tatters, it is crucial that the press is not only supported – but actively protected.

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