Trump, tech and TV have strangled press freedom, reporters say

(Reuters) – U.S. President Donald Trump has encouraged other leaders to roll back press freedom, his message amplified by tech platforms and mainstream media that have been unsure how to react, three journalists and activists said leading.

FILE PHOTO: US President Donald Trump looks on as he speaks to the media before boarding Air Force One to depart Washington on a trip to visit the US-Mexico border wall in Texas, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland , United States, January 12, 2021. REUTERS/Carlos Barria

CNN’s Christiane Amanpour, Maria Ressa, who runs a Filipino news site known for its scrutiny of President Rodrigo Duterte, and Sonny Swe, CEO of Frontier Myanmar, told a Reuters Next panel that freedom of the press s was badly deteriorated.

Ressa, who has faced criminal charges for his reporting, likened the arrival of major tech platforms to an atomic bomb exploding in the media ecosystem, with readers manipulated by algorithms into ever more incendiary news.

Amanpour, CNN’s main international anchor, said broadcasters and newspapers also needed to look at the role they played after reporting comments and news based on who said them, whether they were true or not. .

“We should have dropped the mic a long time ago,” she told the panel on press freedom around the world, adding that citizens also needed to start taking much more responsibility for what they consume.

Rights groups have warned that press freedom is at risk in many parts of the world, with journalists being harassed by police, the judiciary, politicians and protesters in the streets.

In 2020, the United Nations accused Trump’s White House of staging an “attack” on the media that it said had led to a severely negative “Trump Effect” on press freedom elsewhere.

Reacting to the report, the White House said at the time that it expected all news to be “fair and accurate”, adding that Trump was “not going to shy away from lies”.

Platforms such as Twitter and Facebook had previously taken a light swipe at police posts from world leaders, arguing that people have a right to see their statements and that it is in the public interest.

But the storming of the US Capitol last week prompted a rethink, with Twitter banning Trump’s account, which had 88 million followers, because of the risk of further violence.

Stakeholders said technology platforms need to be regulated at a key time in their development, although there is no easy consensus on who should lead this.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel criticized Trump’s Twitter ban and warned through a spokesperson that lawmakers, not private companies, should decide on potential restrictions on free speech.

In Myanmar, Swe said, the government used Facebook to publish news, especially during the pandemic, which made it difficult for journalists to review the data.

When asked if they were more optimistic about press freedom in 2021, Amanpour said it was, while Ressa said it depends on how the industry handles this moment. . Swe, jailed for eight years for breaking censorship rules, said he still had hope.

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Reporting by Leela de Kretser; Written by Kate Holton; Editing by Alexander Smith

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