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What to we do if the White House discriminates against journalists?

In front of rulers who violate press freedom, the choice of silence weakens international institutions

On February 24th, 2017 there was an accident – all the newspapers wrote about it – between correspondents accredited to the White House and Sean Spice, the powerful spokesman for the US president, Donald Trump. Spice invited to a briefing only a few accredited journalists and left outside the door the correspondents of the major newspapers, including the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, Politico.com, Buzzfeed, The Guardian, all known to be on positions critical of the policies of the new tenant of the White House.

The case has aroused the protest of the interested parties and their newspapers, but so far there has been no official recall from the organizations that protect freedom of the press. And yet it is a discrimination that denies the right to access on equal terms to the information of one of the highest political and government institutions.

Similar incidents occur in various countries and they usually are not let go. In Italy, for example, when a public man, a member of the government or a mayor discriminates a journalist in this way, the category organizations complain formally and usually manage to convince the powerful whiner to change their attitude. Ossigeno per l’Informazione considers these discriminations forms of unjustifiable obstacles to the right information and puts those journalists who are discriminated against in the list of victims of serious violations of press freedom.

Equal access to the information provided publicly by public figures, especially those who play a mandate from voters’ choice, is in fact one of the essential requirements of the freedom of the press, and one of the conditions that must be guaranteed for the exercise of the right to receive information. This access is not an option. It is a codified law, stated in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Fundamental Rights, that is, by treaties accepted by States members of the UN, the OSCE and the European Union. Access to information is important for every citizen, but it is even more so to those who, like the journalist, has a professional duty to inform the public. The violation of this law by the Trump staff, who would be required to respect it under the Treaties, cited not only by the Constitution of his country, is blatant. Why, then, has it not prompted the protests and official recalls it deserved? Evidently the Trump’s power and his influence on international organizations, which have the task of monitoring compliance with the freedom of the press and expression, weigh significantly and have paralyzed the controllers.

Unfortunately, the same happens in relation to other public figures that less strong than Trump.

The impotence in front of the non-respect of basic human rights and other serious transgressions is frequent. And it is a big problem. When the offender is very strong, it tends to suffer, to be silent, to let go. But so the compliance with this and other fundamental rights becomes open to questioning and diminish the institutions created to expect them to be respected. Unfortunately this is what is happening. The Council of Europe is not the same after the decision made by the French President François Hollande following the Paris bombings, that is the suspension of the application of the treaties that impose respect for certain human rights, and also following Erdogan’s repression in Turkey, which has not been subject to appropriate sanctions. And now the OSCE is held at gunpoint, where the important Office of the Representative on Freedom of the Media is likely to remain vacant for a long time, since a few days from the expiration of the prestigious mandate of Dunja Mijatovic, a successor still looms. Maybe we should talk more about these issues.


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