When Fighting Fake News Aids Censorship

Courtney C. Radsch at Project Syndicate: “Many media analysts have rightly identified the dangers posed by “fake news,” but often overlook what the phenomenon means for journalists themselves. Not only has the term become a shorthand way to malign an entire industry; autocrats are invoking it as an excuse to jail reporters and justify censorship, often on trumped-up charges of supporting terrorism.

Around the world, the number of honest journalists jailed for publishing fake or fictitious news is at an all-time high of at least 21. As non-democratic leaders increasingly use the “fake news” backlash to clamp down on independent media, that number is likely to climb.

The United States, once a world leader in defending free speech, has retreated from this role. President Donald Trump’s Twitter tirades about “fake news” have given autocratic regimes an example by which to justify their own media crackdowns. In December, China’s state-run People’s Daily newspaper posted tweets and a Facebook post welcoming Trump’s fake news mantra, noting that it “speaks to a larger truth about Western media.” This followed the Egyptian government’s praise for the Trump administration in February 2017, when the country’s foreign ministry criticized Western journalists for their coverage of global terrorism.

And in January 2017, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan praised Trump for berating a CNN reporter during a live news conference. Erdoğan, who criticized the network for its coverage of pro-democracy protests in Turkey in 2013, said that Trump had put the journalist “in his place.” Trump returned the compliment when he met Erdoğan a few months later. Praising his counterpart for being an ally in the fight against terrorism, Trump made no mention of Erdoğan’s own dismal record on press freedom.

It is no accident that these three countries have been quickest to embrace Trump’s “fake news” trope. China, Egypt, and Turkey jailed more than half of the world’s journalists in 2017, continuing a trend from the previous year. The international community’s silence in the face of these governments’ attacks on independent media seems to have been interpreted as consent….(More)”.