After sly threats and arbitrary access policies for journalists covering the White House, Reuters News has told its cadre of reporters to treat the new U.S. president like any other nation where censorship, even physical threats, are used by governing officials to intimidate a free press.
In a directive issued Tuesday afternoon, Editor-in-Chief Steve Adler wrote about the challenges of covering the Trump administration.
“It’s not every day that a U.S. president calls journalists ‘among the most dishonest human beings on earth’ or that his chief strategist dubs the media ‘the opposition party.'”
Adler then described some of the conflicting theories being held by news organizations to ensure that they covered the news. According to Adler, however, Reuters is deft at getting information and reporting news in some of the most difficult situations and regions hostile to honest news coverage.
He then went on to boast of Reuters’ success in 100 countries:
“I am perpetually proud of our work in places such as Turkey, the Philippines, Egypt, Iraq, Yemen, Thailand, China, Zimbabwe, and Russia, nations in which we sometimes encounter some combination of censorship, legal prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to our journalists.”
Adler says the key to success is their impartiality, but despite that, it seems he expects attacks from the Trump administration
“We don’t know yet how sharp the Trump administration’s attacks will be over time or to what extent those attacks will be accompanied by legal restrictions on our news-gathering. But we do know that we must follow the same rules that govern our work anywhere.”
According to Adler, easy access to official sources is often not of value, anyway. He cites the organization’s coverage of Iran, where there is nearly no access for foreign journalists. He says unofficial sources are more useful for getting to the truth. In fact, it seems that Adler is putting the Trump on notice: if you won’t provide open access, he implies, we will find the truth elsewhere.
He also reminded his journalists not to be intimidated, but to be sure they don’t pick fights over issues that aren’t in the best interest of the readers.
He also advised they “keep our own counsel” in order to be perceived as impartial, despite personal feelings. He says this is the policy in foreign countries, and it should be also true when reporting in the U.S.
More disturbing is that a major news organization, known for its fact-based, impartial reporting, feels the need to make this approach public. The current administration has made it clear that they feel they have the right to pick and choose which media outlets cover them. Trump cancelled credentials for several news organization on the campaign trail, simply because they didn’t laud him in their publications. To Trump, honest criticism is “unfair,” regardless of the lunacy of his policies.
Most recently, Trump called out The New York Times on Twitter, and reinforced the message of his alt-right adviser, Breitbart head Steve Bannon, calling the press “the opposition party.”
Even more concerning is the idea that the editor-in-chief of a major news organization, who has experience of reporting under censorship, obstruction, and even physical attack where civil rights are disregarded, finds it so easy to publicly compare the Trump administration with backwater totalitarian regimes.
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