Freedom of the press is under attack in the United States and could incite further violence against reporters, said a U.N. official.
During a press conference, U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein criticized U.S. President Trump for attacking news organizations and expressed concern over the consequences of such rhetoric.
“It’s really quite amazing when you think that freedom of the press, not only sort of a cornerstone of the U.S. Constitution but very much something that the United States defended over the years, is now itself under attack from the President himself,” Zeid said.
“It’s sort of a stunning turnaround. And ultimately the sequence is a dangerous one,” he continued.
Throughout his presidential campaign and since taking office, President Trump has repeatedly described media organizations including the New York Times and CNN as “fake news.”
Most recently during a rally in Arizona, the President called journalists as “truly dishonest people” and criticized their coverage of his reaction to a white supremacist rally in Charlottesville when he said violence was caused by “many sides.”
“To call these news organizations ‘fake’ does tremendous damage and to refer to individual journalists in this way – I have to ask the question: is this not an incitement for others to attack journalists?” Zeid asked.
“I think at an enormous rally, referring to journalists as very bad people, you don’t have to stretch the imagination to see then what could happen to journalists.”
The High Commissioner cited the case of Guardian reporter Ben Jacobs who was recently assaulted by Montana Republican Greg Gianforte.
He also pointed to the poisonous repercussions of such “demonization” of the press around the world.
In Cambodia, spokesperson Phay Siphan has threatened to take action against media outlets that are perceived to be endangering “peace and security” while citing President Trump’s expulsion of news organizations from a White House briefing earlier this year
“Donald Trump’s ban of international media giants … sends a clear message that President Trump sees that news published by those media institutions does not reflect the real situation,” he said.
“Freedom of expression must be located within the domain of the law and take into consideration national interests and peace,” Siphan added.
Such cases will only expand, the High Commissioner said.
“I almost feel that the President [Trump] is driving the bus of humanity and we are careening down a mountain path,” Zeid said.
“From a human rights perspective, it seems to be reckless driving,” he concluded.