December 20, 2016
US hypocritical use of the Media
by Chen Weihua
The US Under Secretary for Civilian Security, Democracy, and Human Rights Sarah Sewal
Sarah Sewall, the US under-secretary of state for civilian security, democracy and human rights, spoke recently of how freedom of information and freedom of the press form the bedrock for US foreign policy.
She lashed out at China and Russia, saying that a recent report found that the Chinese government and its legions of helpers write nearly a half billion fake posts a year and that the Russian government spends at least $400 million a year on its propaganda machine of bots and trolls and factories of false content to undermine trust in independent media.
She then claimed that the US ramped up support in Europe for civil society and media most vulnerable to Russian pressure by more than 50 percent to more than $85 million.
Ms. Sewall’s allegations against the Chinese and Russian governments are yet to be substantiated, while her admission that the US government spent $85 million on propaganda in Europe raises questions about the US government meddling in its media.
Ms. Sewall quickly left after the six-minute speech she gave at a seminar in honor of the 250th anniversary of Sweden’s Freedom of the Press Act.The event touched on much of the challenges the media face in the US today, especially under President Barack Obama’s administration.
In the 2016 World Press Freedom Index by Reporters Without Borders, the US ranked 41st out of 180 countries. Its standing in 2015 was 49th. Such a relatively low ranking, behind Slovenia (40), Ghana (26) and Namibia (17), hardly looks like the robust media freedom that Ms. Sewall touted.
The Reporters Without Borders report blasted the US government’s “war on whistle blowers who leak information about its surveillance activities, spying and foreign operations, especially those linked to counter terrorism” and the lack of a “shield law” in the US to help journalists protect confidential sources.
Sam Sanders of National Public Radio reported that Mr. Obama’s Justice Department has cracked down on reporters in an effort to prevent leaks; it also set a new record for withholding access to government files under the Freedom of Information Act (despite Mr. Obama calling for a “new era of openness” on his first day in office).
A study by the Columbia Journalism Review found that relations between the White House and the news media have never been so controlled in the past 50 years, saying that the “White House is determined to conceal its workings from the press, and by extension, the public.”
New York Times reporter James Risen last year called the Obama administration “the greatest enemy of press freedom in a generation.” Mr. Risen was beseeched by the Obama government to identify his confidential sources for parts of a 2006 book in which he detailed a CIA plan to undermine Iran’s nuclear program.
At the seminar, veteran US journalist Marvin Kalb shared his personal experiences covering the Vietnam War and talked about how presidents Lyndon Johnson and Richard Nixon did not like his reporting that was critical of US foreign policy. Some reporters in his time ended up on the “enemies list,” their phones being tapped and income tax returns scrutinized every year.
He lamented that there are many ways a government, even in a free country, can put pressure on a reporter, but added that many reporters acted more aggressively under such pressure.
Jeffrey Herbst, President and CEO of Newseum, noted the high societal pressure on journalists in the US today. Feedback on reporters’ stories often includes hateful or vitriolic comments. He admitted that some US reporters tend to censor themselves under such a public backlash. It would be good if Ms. Sewall had also reflected on the US government’s war on the media before pointing fingers at other governments.
Source :China Daily Asia