Donald Trump has “copied the playbook” of dictators in vilifying the press and is to blame for the current attacks in America on journalists, a leading media academic has said.
Prue Clarke, the Senior Executive Officer at the Judith Neilson Institute, a Sydney-based independent journalism organisation, told Hatch, the situation in the United States where journalists have been roughed up by both police and protesters was “unimaginable”.
“[Trump] has given [the US police] the sense that they can do anything that he tells them to do and he’s been telling them for years that journalists are the enemy of the state and we’re seeing now what happens when the President keeps that narrative going,” Ms Clarke said.
“It’s been a shocking development and all my friends who are American journalists just cannot get their heads around how it’s got to this stage so quickly.
“Trump has really been copying the playbook of dictators such as Kim Jong Un and Vladimir Putin.”
Ms Clarke, who worked as a journalist and taught in the US for 19 years, including a decade as a professor at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism, said one of her own former students had been arrested in recent days.
“Gustavo Martinez Contreras was arrested two days ago and it was just shocking,” she said. “I used to teach Gustavo and the other students International Reporting and we spent a lot of time talking about the dangers they would face overseas. We had all thought the dangers to them were overseas and not in the US.”
Martinez Contreras, a reporter for the Asbury Park Press, was arrested on Tuesday (Wednesday AEST) in Asbury Park, New Jersey, while live-streaming the protest on Periscope.
Viewers watched in amazement as a police officer shouted “F—k him, he’s the problem”, and tackled him to the ground and arrested him.
Ms Clarke said: “He was very clear that he was with the press to the police, he’s an excellent journalist and people from all different backgrounds love him because he’s so fair and balanced. I cannot believe there was anything he could have done to provoke this.”
On May 29 President Trump tweeted that he would “send in the National Guard & get the job done right” in an attempt to control the escalating Minneapolis protests. By this time journalists had already been arrested, but after the tweet went out, the attacks and arrests increased significantly.
CNN reporter Omar Jimenez was arrested live on air by the Minnesota Police last Friday.
“Do you mind telling me why I am under arrest, sir? Why am I under arrest, sir?,” he asked, as he was handcuffed and led away in front of live TV viewers.
The country-wide protests began on May 25 after footage appeared on social media of white Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeling on the neck of 46-year-old African American man George Floyd for several minutes until he lost consciousness and was later declared dead.
Jimenez clearly identified himself as a reporter and was peacefully co-operating with the officers requests, but was still taken into police custody along with his producer and cameraman. They would be released after just an hour in custody but the arrest had sent a very loud and clear message.
Jimenez would not be the last journalist targeted in relation to the protests.
The US Press Freedom Tracker reveals 44 journalists have been attacked and 19 arrested across the country in 2020, with all but nine of these occurring during the George Floyd protests.
Further protests were sparked in Louisville, Kentucky, as George Floyd’s death was compared to the killing of 26-year-old African American woman Breonna Taylor by the Louisville Metro Police Department (LMPD) on March 13 this year.
Wave 3 News reporter Kaitlin Rust was live on air covering the Louisville protests on May 30 when a Louisville police officer fired pepper balls at her and photographer James Dobson.
“I’m getting shot, I’m getting shot,” Rust could be heard screaming in the footage.
“Who are [the Louisville police] aiming [the pepper ball gun] at?,” The anchor asked.
“At us. Directly at us,” Rust answered.
In some cases journalists have been seriously injured by the police.
On May 30, freelance photojournalist Linda Tirado was permanently blinded in her left eye after police shot her with a rubber bullet as she was covering the Minneapolis protests. She tweeted photos of her bloodied and bandaged eye and later confirmed she was now blind in one eye.
Ms Clarke said there’s a more ingrained explanation for why the US police have acted so aggressively.
“It’s always been clear that there was a problem with institutionalised racism across America,” she said.
“The fear is that if you constantly attack the credibility of journalism and journalists that people would start to (A) believe it, which they have certainly done, you see it constantly at Trump rallies people are attacking journalists and dismissing them and refusing to read anything in the New York Times… and it’s all been Trump driven.”
Closer to home, Australian reporter for 9News Tim Arvier was detained and searched by Minneapolis police along with his cameraman and security guard.
Arvier claimed the trio told police they were media but were still ordered out of their car with one officer even pointing a gun at them. Arvier’s cameraman and security guard were handcuffed and all three were forced into the gutter.
Attacks on Australian journalists escalated on June 2 when Channel 7 reporter Amelia Brace was clubbed with a truncheon by police whilst reporting from outside the White House in Washington, D.C. Her cameraman Tim Myers was hit with a riot shield and punched in the face. Brace was also shot in the backside and Myers in the back of the neck with rubber bullets and had difficulty breathing due to the tear gas.
The whole ordeal was streamed live on air and Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison has since asked for an investigation into the attack.
In addition to the dangers journalists had to face from law enforcement, they also had to be wary of protestors who could become aggressive and hostile.
This has extended beyond America to the UK, and on June 3 in London, 9News reporters Sophie Walsh and Ben Avery were chased down a street by a crowd hurling bottles and other projectiles. A man had run up to her shouting “Allahu Akbar” and made stabbing motions at her, causing her to scream and eventually go off air. Her cameraman Jason Conduit chased the man down with a light pole and detained him and the man was arrested.
In another incident on May 31, Fox News reporters who were reporting live on air from near the White House were harassed and chased out of the area by protestors. Fox claimed reporter Leland Vittert, cameraman Christian Galdabini and two security guards were punched and hit with projectiles and the Fox News camera was broken.
CNN anchor Jake Tapper spoke out against those protestors, supporting his rival network’s freedom to report.
On the same day, photojournalist for KDKA TV in Pittsburgh Ian Smith claimed protestors assaulted him and damaged his equipment. Smith tweeted about the incident, attaching a photo of himself bloodied and bruised in an ambulance to support his claims.
The U.S. ranks 45 out of 180 countries when it comes to press freedom according to the World Press Freedom Index. Yet, the recent mistreatment of media in the US has reflected something much more dire. This became evident as more and more influential people spoke out about the injustices.
Secretary General of the United Nations António Guterres tweeted in support of journalists and their right to report the truth, emphasising the importance of press freedom in a democratic nation.
However, despite the right of the journalist to inform the public, and despite the US First Amendment Act that states “Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press”, journalists have found themselves being silenced in the midst of the protests.