Dear Council Leaders, Friends, and Supporters:
The stakes have rarely been higher for the news media. Fifteen to 20 years ago, a top concern of journalists was how the Internet and new technologies would change the ad-driven business model that supported news gathering and delivery, and whether their companies and jobs would continue to exist.
These days, as attacks from an American president on what he deems “fake news” increase and, more dangerously, morph into an authoritarian assault targeting journalists as “the enemy of the people,” the threat is far greater – to democracy itself. Globally, this worrisome trend emboldens those in power where protections for reporters were already weak; for established and emerging democracies, it erodes discourse, citizenship, and governance.
On Monday, a Myanmar judge found two Reuters reporters, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, guilty of breaching a law on state secrets and jailed them for seven years. The Washington Post, in an editorial the day before, decried the imprisonment and killing of journalists “to smother vital truths."
When President Trump’s lawyer, Rudy Giuliani, says in a televised NBC interview that “Truth isn’t truth,” this is not a “business as usual” environment for the Fourth Estate. Chuck Todd, moderator of Meet the Press and political director at NBC News, just penned a piece for the Atlantic, “It’s Time for the Press to Stop Complaining - And to Start Fighting Back.”
Meanwhile, New Yorker magazine is now caught up in controversy for inviting and suddenly disinviting Steve Bannon as a headline speaker for its eponymous Festival. Vox today carried a worthwhile take on this New Yorker-Bannon story and the double bind journalists find themselves in today. Councils could face similar perils when it comes to engaging certain speakers for their events.
The WACA National Office urges courage, and we commend the Santa Fe Council on International Relations – our Council of the Month – for putting together a timely and aptly-named conference in December: Journalism Under Fire.