Freedom of the press or freedom of the media is the principle that communication and expression through various media, including printed and electronic media, especially published materials, should be considered a right to be exercised freely (according to Wikipedia).
But if we don’t like what the press, or an individual journalist, has to say – or if we don’t like how they conduct themselves – do we have equal rights to just deny them access to any stories we may have to tell?
Arguably yes, if you are a mere member of the general public. But do the same rules apply when you are in a position of power as, for example, a world leader?
Apparently not, according to the legal team of American news-based television channel Cable News Network (CNN) which has announced that it will be suing President Donald Trump and multiple White House aides for revoking the press pass of its White House correspondent.
An announcement that followed hot on the heels of a fiery exchange between said correspondent – who goes by the name Jim Acosta, incidentally – and said President the previous week.
Needless to say the phrase ‘Fake News’ was banded about, and anyone who has any interest in politics took a little moment to enjoy watching an increasingly tense discussion about what was, in essence, a caravan.
But once the initial shock caused by the absurdity of the situation dissipated, and the White House statement regarding denying Acosta (who is apparently a ‘terrible person’, according to Trump) of his ‘Hard Pass’ was released, attention turned to what CNN had planned… which is legal action amidst claims that the correspondent’s First and Fifth Amendment rights were being violated.
Terribly American, granted, but a valid point nonetheless.
In fact, the White House Correspondents’ Association President Olivier Knox went as far as to say that revoking access amounted to a ‘disproportionate reaction’ to what happened; adding that ‘The President of the United States should not be in the business of arbitrarily picking the men and women who cover him’.
Working in PR, and overseeing the press offices of many public and private sector organisations I know first-hand how the media can work to the advantage of companies large and small – generating new business, helping to craft and nurture staff camaraderie, aiding recruitment and celebrating success.
I therefore do feel slightly uncomfortable with the type of censorship that applauds the press when they are on your side, and lambastes them when they are not.
And to be clear, I am not talking about choosing not to respond to a media enquiry, or indeed to choosing to censor what you are prepared to reveal.
What I am referring to is the fact that, for the most part, a corporation – or indeed a political figure – can choose when to announce something, and they therefore have the privilege of carefully crafting their key messages and practising what they are going to say.
The press do then have the right to challenge, or interpret, in the way that they choose to – to an extent, and assuming it remains accurate! And if it isn’t, that’s where the independent Press Standards Organisation can help!
As CNN said in an earlier statement, whilst the suit is specific to CNN and Acosta, ‘this could have happened to anyone’, and ‘If left unchallenged, the actions of the White House would create a dangerous chilling effect for any journalist who covers our elected officials’.
And where would we find ourselves then?