UN freedom of speech experts have warned that US president Donald Trump’s speeches attacking journalists could lead to violence.
Trump has regularly denounced the media as “fake news” and described journalists as “enemy of the people”.
The President condemned the media as “fake, fake disgusting news” at a campaign rally in the state of Pennsylvania yesterday, in which he cast journalists as his true political opponents.
In a joint statement, also published yesterday, UN special rapporteurs for freedom of expression Edison Lanza and David Kaye said: “These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.
“We are especially concerned that these attacks increase the risk of journalists being targeted with violence.”
Trump’s invective against the media this week came amid a backdrop of antagonism to journalists from the White House and hostility from thousands of Trump supporters packed in to hear him speak.
“What ever happened to the free press? What ever happened to honest reporting?” Trump asked, pointing to the media at the back of the hall. “They don’t report it. They only make up stories.”
Time and time again, he denounced the press for underselling his accomplishments and doubting his political rise.
He tore into the media for diminishing what he accomplished at his Singapore summit with North Korea leader Kim Jong Un.
He complained about the tough questioning he received in Helsinki when he met Russia’s Vladimir Putin last month and he began his rally speech with a 10-minute remembrance of his 2016 election night victory, bemoaning that Pennsylvania was not the state to clinch the White House for him only because “the fake news refused to call it”.
“They were suffering that night, they were suffering,” he said of the election-night pundits. He then promised that the Keystone State would deliver his margin of victory “next time”.
“Only negative stories from the fakers back there,” the President said.
The inflammatory performance came hours after White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders refused to distance herself from Trump’s previous assertions that the media is the “enemy” of the American people.
Pressed during a White House briefing on the issue, she said the President “has made his position known”.
In a heated exchange with reporters, she recited a litany of complaints against the press and blamed the media for inflaming tensions.
“As far as I know, I’m the first press secretary in the history of the United States that’s required Secret Service protection,” she said, accusing the media of continuing “to ratchet up the verbal assault against the president and everyone in this administration”.
The US is the third most dangerous place for journalists – in terms of journalists killed so far this year – according to statistics from the Committee to Protect Journalists.
In July, five members of US paper Capital Gazette were gunned down in the newsroom, including four journalists. Following the attack, Gazette journalist Selene San Felice called on the President and the nation to take “action” to prevent further attacks on the media.
Picture: AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster