Your freedom was never ‘free’ – why Trump’s press ban is an attack on democracy.

“Freedom is never more than one generation away from extinction. We didn’t pass it to our children in the bloodstream. It must be fought for, protected and handed on for them to do the same.”

Ronald Reagan

25 February 2017. Thirty six days after his inauguration President of the United States, Donald Trump banned specific news outlets from the White House among them the BBC, New York Times and CNN. Trump has sledged these news outlets before, displeased with their coverage of his election campaign, presidency, and his alleged ties with Russia.

Trump’s information campaign is not a fly-by-the-tweet of your pants circus. Twitter acts as his brand newsroom and amplifier, but behind the celebrity bravado lies a strategy that chips away at one of the pillars of democracy: the censorship of the free press.

While others more experienced in political and governing accept that the news media aren’t always going to write glowingly of their work; Trump actively seeks out and challenges alternate-to-his views. This, again, is not the behaviour of a ranting crackpot, but rather a purposeful chip away at the foundations of accountability. By framing his rhetoric as a self-fulfilling prophecy he side steps any accountability of his actions while simultaneously blaming any failures as someone else’s fault.

Convenient isn’t it?

In the case of the banned media, this too is attributed to faults of their own. As judge, jury and the command in chief of the press-police, Trump’s attack on freedom of speech runs deeper than the news media and is an affront to freedom itself.

Trump not only tells you what to think but he also demands a complete disregard of critical thinking. Call it fake news, alternate truth or whatever you like – the inconvenient truth of the current Trump situation is that it bears all the hallmarks of a fascist escalation.

If you think labelling Trump as a escalating fascist is melodramatic; let me remind you of how freedom of the press has been, or is being, curtailed in other fascist regimes:

One of the most detailed histories of the oppression of the free press in the Third Reich can be found in the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum (USHMM):

When Adolf Hitler took power in 1933, the Nazi’s controlled less than three per cent of Germany’s 4,700 papers.

The elimination of the German multi-party political system not only brought about the

demise of hundreds of newspapers produced by outlawed political parties; it also allowed the state to seize the printing plants and equipment of the Communist and Social Democratic Parties.

Under the Editor’s Law of October 4, 1933 the Third Reich kept registries of “racially pure”  editors and journalists, and excluded Jews and those married to Jews from the profession.

Editors and journalists had to register with the Reich Press Chamber to work in the field and follow the mandates and instructions handed down by the ministry. This included, in paragraph 14 of the law, that the regime required editors to omit anything “calculated to weaken the strength of the Reich abroad or at home.”

The Propaganda Ministry aimed to further control the content of news and editorial pages through directives distributed in daily conferences in Berlin, which were then transmitted to regional offices or local papers. Detailed guidelines stated what stories could or could not be reported and how to report the news.

Journalists or editors who failed to follow these instructions could be fired, or if believed to be acting with intent to harm Germany, sent to a concentration camp.

Rather than suppress the news, the Nazi propaganda apparatus sought to tightly control its flow and interpretation; and to deny access to alternative sources of news.

By the time the Third Reich fell in 1945 the death toll was horrifying:

  • Up to 6 million Jews
  • 1.3 million Soviet citizens/Jews
  • 1.8 million non-Jewish Polish citizens
  • 312,00 Serbs
  • 250,000 people with disabilities
  • 220,000 Roma gypsies
  • 70,000 repeat criminals – often including homosexual men; and
  • 1,900 Jehovah Witnesses

(USHMM, 2017)

Saddam Hussein’s Iraq was the deadliest country in the world for journalists from the years 2003 to 2008; and the third deadliest in 2009, the second deadliest in 2010 and 2011 according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. (Al Jazeera)

Under Hussein, insulting the President was punishable by death. Reporters without Borders, found that that Hussein was a predator of press freedom.

“The Iraqi regime used every means possible to control the press and silence dissenting voices. It was in fact, spelled out in Iraqi law that journalists must not make any declaration or suggestion that might benefit an enemy at the expense of our country.”

Over the 24 year reign of Hussein – some 8,000 days – researchers have found that between 70 and 125 civilians died each day. In total, some 600,000 Iraqi civilians and over 100,000 Iraqi Kurds died. An additional 500,000 are estimated to have died during the Iran-Iraq conflict.  (Hilton, 2003)

While acknowledging that Saddam Hussein ‘was a bad guy,’ Trump praised the former Iraqi dictators efficient killing of ‘terrorists’ … “He was a bad guy – really bad guy. But you know what? He did well? He killed terrorists. He did that so good. They didn’t read them the rights. They didn’t talk. They were terrorists. Over. Today, Iraq is Harvard for terrorism,” Trump said.  (CNN politics, 2013)

In Gaddafi’s Libya, the press was not free. The Index on Censorship reports that:

It was difficult for journalists to work and publish outside state-owned media outlets. Journalists faced banning, harassment, imprisonment, torture and even death for falling out of favour with the regime.

As well as the Libyans killed under his rule, Gaddafi ordered terrorist attacks resulting in the death of US Soldiers at Berlin Nightclub in 1986 and the bombing of Pan-Am flight 103 over Lockerbie in Scotland in 1988. (BBC, 2011)

Researches put the total death count during his rule at approximately 30,000 people. (Downie, 2011)

In North Korea the press is not free. Freedom House reports that one of the most repressive media environments in the world, the state-controlled domestic media produces propaganda with the aim of ensuring absolute loyalty to Kim Jong-un.

The Kim Dynasty’s democide is estimated to have cost up to three and a half million North Koreans their lives. (Rummel, 2002)

In Russia, Freedom House reports that “the nationalistic tone of the dominant Russian media continued to drown out independent and critical journalism in 2015… Deterents to independant reporting and commentary included draconian laws and extralegal intidimiation… The persisent threat of deadly repercussions of dissent was reinforced in February (2015) when opposition leader Boris Nemstov was assassinated in central Moscow.”

History has taught us that when the press are suppressed, facism flourishes. The free press act as critical defenders of democracy in holding leaders and Governments to account.

The inconvenient truth is that the freedoms you enjoy today were never freely bestowed.

Your freedom was – and still is – being paid for in the blood of soldiers, journalists and innocent civilians.

With the price of freedom so high, why is your desire to rebel against contemporary fascism so low?