EDITORIAL: The dirty war against the free press

Over 200 newspapers across the U.S. have answered the call from The Boston Globe and the American Society of News Editors to join in a coordinated and united editorial response to the frequent attacks on the free press by the President of the United States, Donald Trump.  Under the banner, “The dirty war on the free press must end,” those editorials will hit the newsstands today and will mark one of the widest coordinated efforts in the history of American media.

Marjorie Pritchard, the Globe’s deputy editorial page editor, reported that the response was overwhelming and each media outlet would write its own editorial because “the impact of Trump’s assault on journalism looks different in Boise than it does in Boston.” She added, “Our words will differ. But at least we can agree that such attacks are alarming.”  The goal is get differing views from the editorials but reflecting “the same sentiment: The importance of a free and independent press.”

That call has gone global because the attacks on the free and independent press are increasing daily and the rhetoric has indeed reached alarming levels.  Various regional media organisations have thrown their support behind the efforts to defend free speech and will join the cause, not against Donald Trump’s hatred of the media, but against the creep of that hatred into our peaceful societies.

A regional publication, in supporting the effort, wrote, “While we may not face the same rhetoric as U.S. media, domestic regional news outlets in particular do face politically motivated attacks, ranging from threats of defamation lawsuits (including criminal libel in some jurisdictions) to economic pressure by the threatened or actual withdrawal of government advertising, all of which leads to self-censorship that is inimical to the concept of a free press enshrined in most, if not all, national constitutions.”

Here at home, our media house, the OBSERVER, is under constant attack from politicians and their political minions.  The prime minister himself leads the charge with unfounded and untrue statements about “fake news” and has labeled us as a “threat” to Antigua and Barbuda.  He mimics the Donald Trump anti-media playbook with uncanny accuracy and he leverages his popularity with his base to damage our companies in any way that he can.  

This is not a casual observation or us being defensive, the evidence is plain for all to see – save for those who are politically blinded.  Like the Wall Street Journal, we have been labeled as “failing” and “irrelevant,” yet we are the focus of attention.  And like the romance between Fox News and President Trump, PM Browne’s praises only go to those who shower praise on him and his administration.  Disagreement and criticism are no longer allowed and discussions become a one-way affair littered with personal attacks.  Sounds familiar?  There is something very wrong with this trend towards bullying the media as a way of controlling the news.  It is indeed a dirty war.

It is easy to sit on the sidelines and rejoice when your “side” is “winning” but the impact of these attacks have serious economic consequences. Simply put, when a local independent newspaper closes its doors, the cost of government rises.  That is not OBSERVER saying so, it is the conclusion of a survey from Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business.    The study, Financing Dies in the Darkness? The impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance, concludes that there is a direct correlation between the closure of a local newspaper and higher costs related to government.   According to Paul Gao, a professor of finance at the college and one of the report’s authors, the local papers hold an important and unique role in the proper functioning of the government and markets.  

The study covered some 1,600 English-language newspapers serving 1,266 counties in the U.S. between 1996 and 2015 and one of the interesting findings was that once the oversight provided by the local newspapers was gone, the cost of borrowing increased because of the increased risk of mis-spending the people’s money.  Basically, politicians can take “liberties” when no one is looking. That is why the war is on.  Not because we are a threat to the nation but we are a threat to political and economic wrongdoing. Get rid of those looking over your shoulder and push to control the media, and no one will be any the wiser to what you are doing.  If you are old enough, just cast your mind back to the pre-Outlet and OBSERVER days and you will immediately see what we are talking about. 

So, we invite you to join us in calling for an end to this dirty war against the free press; if not for your country or your neighbours, selfishly do it for yourself because you will ultimately end up paying the price.

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