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From arrests of journalists to future bans on protests: Is Trump’s America all about gagging dissent?

Last week, reports surfaced stating that Republican legislators were teaming up to propose laws which would make peaceful protests illegal in Washington, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota.

Written by Radhika Iyengar |
January 27, 2017 1:17:21 pm

Donald Trump, US president Donald Trump, Trump, Trump Twitter, Donald Trump on Twitter, Donald Trump-Gmail, private email, Donald Trump-hackers, world news, Indian Express

Within the United States of America, a strange kind of angst and uncertainty has begun to seethe. When Donald J. Trump was elected as the new President, the country almost immediately erupted into protests. Marches and rallies are the hallmark of a democracy. Terrifyingly so however, plans are being designed to bulldoze over one’s freedom to protest, even if the protest is non-violent.

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Last week, reports surfaced stating that Republican legislators were teaming up to propose laws which would make peaceful protests illegal in Washington, Michigan, Iowa, Minnesota and North Dakota. Those who’ participate in such marches would be penalised with prison terms and fines. One of the bills proposed is by the Republicans in North Dakota (bit.ly/2jd7HkM) that states that if a motorist “accidentally” hits, injures or kills a protester who is obstructing a public road, the motorist will not be penalised.

This is the new America. This is Trump’s America, where any form of dissent will be suffocated. The press, which is the most crucial, empowered monolith that protects and upholds the foundation of American democracy is being sledgehammered. Trump’s distaste for the US press, anchored in derision and ridicule, has been evident since the day he began running the presidential race. Since then however, the distaste has metamorphosed into an acerbic, targeted attack through a series of Twitter outbursts. But the most disturbing attack was when the President held his first press conference, and in what seemed like an unfiltered diatribe, he lashed out at the press calling it many a things, including a “failing pile of garbage”. On Thursday, Trump’s Chief Strategist Steve Bannon went ahead and said that the US media should “keep its mouth shut”.

Till now, Trump’s attack on the press was limited to vocal and textual slingshots. Last Friday however, the Trump administration took the attack to the ground by pulling out certain journalists (including a photojournalist and a documentary producer) who had covered Trump’s inauguration protests and charged them with felony. Two arrests took place last Friday, and four more journalists were charged this week, for apparently being a part of the demonstration that involved the vandalizing of property during Trump’s swearing-in ceremony.  If convicted, these media persons will face a 10-year prison term and expected to pay a fine of $25,000.

It is clear that the press apparatus is being targeted. Apart from building walls and signing bills which tell women what to do with their bodies, restricting crucial information from the press is high up on Trump’s agenda too. On Wednesday, The Guardian released a report stating that Trump’s administration had gone ahead and banned certain US agencies like the Environmental Protection Agency and the Department of Agriculture from “providing updates on social media or to reporters”. It stated that at least five federal agencies had “been ordered silent by Trump.”

Politico reported along the same lines, “The Department of Transportation has become the second federal agency to tap the brakes on its social media postings since the dawn of Donald Trump’s presidency.” The Department of Health and Human Services was added to the list of US agencies asked to halt their communications with reporters. Huffington Post reported, “Officials at sub-agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services, for example, have been told not to send ‘any correspondence to public officials’.” In a US Department of Agriculture internal memo which was leaked to BuzzFeed and published, the Department had demanded its employees “not [to] release any public-facing documents” until further notice. This was revoked on Tuesday.

So, is the press taking this lying down? No.

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Last week, the Columbia Journalism Review had released a letter on behalf of a unified US Press Corps, which categorically informed the President that while he might try to control, regulate or ban the information supplied to the press, the latter would find alternative means to find the truth. “You may decide that giving reporters access to your administration has no upside,” CJR wrote. “We think that would be a mistake on your part, but again, it’s your choice. We are very good at finding alternative ways to get information; indeed, some of the best reporting during the campaign came from news organizations that were banned from your rallies. Telling reporters that they won’t get access to something isn’t what we’d prefer, but it’s a challenge we relish.”

And its living up to the challenge. In fact, yesterday ProPublica released a guideline piece titled, “How to Leak to ProPublica”, encouraging individuals privy to crucial, secret information to pass that onto the organization. It wrote, “We’re investigative journalists devoted to exposing abuse of power. If you’ve got evidence showing powerful people doing the wrong thing, here’s how to let us know while protecting your identity.”

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This is a crucial time for the United States. It’s a country that is presently being led by a man whose administration subscribes to pushing “alternative facts” to the fore. It’s a country where facts matter (for now), but not for its newly-elected President. Trump’s rise to power might just be a death-sentence to American democracy where — forget about the freedom to the press — freedom in its most raw, literal form will be ruthlessly challenged.

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First published on: 27-01-2017 at 01:17:21 pm
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