Trump Clashes With US Media, But Joins Global Press Freedom Initiative

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By Kevin McCandless | October 4, 2019 | 1:40 AM EDT

The press freedom initiative was spearheaded by Britain and Canada. Pictured at an earlier event, in France last April, are then-British Foreign Secretary Jeremy Hunt, Canadian Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland, and British special envoy Amal Clooney. (Photo by Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

London ( – As President Trump pursues an often combative relationship with much of the mainstream American press, the United States has joined a global coalition to fight for media freedom.

Speaking in Florida on Thursday, Trump described CNN as a biased network that is a “terrible thing for our country.” He also suggested to his audience that “we ought to start our own network and put some real news out there.”

At the White House a day earlier, following a heated exchange with a Reuters reporter relating to the Democratic impeachment inquiry, the president said that much of the U.S. media was “fake” and “corrupt.”

Last week at the United Nations, the U.S. joined 31 other nations in formally launching the “Media Freedom Coalition.”

An initiative spearheaded by Britain and Canada, the group of mostly Western democracies has pledged “to take collective action on abuses against the media” around the world.

Britain’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office said almost 100 journalists and media workers were killed worldwide in 2018, and hundreds more were detained by their governments or held hostage.

Speaking at the U.N. last week, Conservative peer and government minister with responsibility for relations with the U.N., Tariq Ahmad said that every country must realize that attacks on media freedom are beyond the pale.

“It is clear there are some countries who are unable to protect media freedom,” he said. “And there are others who are simply unwilling to do so.”

Ahmad said the coalition will act as an advocacy group to lobby governments to protect press freedom and raise its voice on behalf of imprisoned or murdered reporters.

Britain has pledged some $3.9 million to a U.N.-administered legal support fund for media workers in the most dangerous parts of the world.

Joined by Amal Clooney, Britain’s special envoy on media freedom – and wife of U.S. actor George Clooney – Ahmad said an independent panel of legal experts would advise countries worldwide on press laws.

In July, State Department spokeswoman Morgan Ortagus said the U.S. was proud to sign onto the coalition's pledge on media freedom.

Ortagus told a regular departmental press briefing that in too many countries journalists face the threat of violence or imprisonment for their work. She singled out Turkey, China and Egypt as the worst offenders, and criticized countries such as Venezuela and Mauritania for shutting down independent media outlets.

“The United States believes everyone should be able to express themselves freely, both online and offline,” she said. “And the media should be free to operate – should be able to operate free from harassment, threats, and violence.”

Last month British lawmaker Tom Tugendhat, who chairs the Foreign Affairs Committee in the House of Commons, said the government’s past efforts on press freedom were “short on resources, short on detail and short on sustained commitment.”

A report released by his committee at the time criticized the government for not imposing sanctions on Saudi Arabia following the murder, in the kingdom’s consulate in Istanbul, of exiled Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi. It noted that Canada had done so.

Speaking at the U.N., Ahmad said the British government would be introducing domestic legislation that would allow it to bar entry and freeze assets of “anyone” responsible for serious human rights violations against journalists.

Kevin McCandless
Kevin McCandless
CNS London Correspondent

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