As promised on social media last Friday, the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) announced the winners of their Press Oppressor awards on Monday evening—planned just after President Donald Trump shared his decision to give out awards for the "Most Dishonest and Corrupt Media Awards," capping off a year during which he waged frequent attacks on media outlets and individual journalists.
The president had the dubious honor of being recognized for his "Overall Achievement in Undermining Global Press Freedom," both for his own vitriolic anti-press rhetoric and the impact his attitude toward journalism has had in other countries.
"The awards are our response to Trump's announcement," Courtney Radsch, advocacy director for CPJ, told Common Dreams. "This idea of denigrating and pillorying the press has real consequences around the world, and we've seen that as we've just had the worst year on record in terms of journalists being imprisoned for doing their work."
As CPJ reported last month, 262 reporters were imprisoned in 2017, up from the previous year's historical high of 259. The worst jailers of journalists were Turkey, China, and Egypt.
Nine journalists were arrested in connection with the Disrupt J20 protests on Trump's Inauguration Day in Washington, D.C., stoking fears of a potential crackdown on the U.S. media under the new president. But CPJ's main concern with the president's anti-press stance is his rhetoric in speeches, TV appearances, and on social media:
In response to media coverage critical of him, Trump has threatened to 'open-up' U.S. libel laws, sue news outlets, and subject their broadcast licenses to review. He regularly attacks outlets and individual journalists on Twitter and in speeches, calling them "sad," "failing," or "garbage." Since declaring his presidential candidacy in 2015, Trump has posted about 1,000 tweets critical of the press. CPJ research shows that when public figures and political leaders lob insults at the media, they encourage self-censorship and expose journalists to unnecessary risk.
Trump wasn't the only leader noted for his anti-media views. Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdogan, who Trump has called "a friend," was recognized as the "Most Thin-Skinned" politician, with CPJ noting that Turkish courts handled more than 46,000 cases of people "insulting the president" or his government. Trump was named as the runner-up in this category.
Erdogan also took home the title of "Most Outrageous Use of Terror Laws Against the Press," for his country's imprisonment of 73 journalists for "anti-state crimes," most of whom were accused of "belonging to, aiding, or making propaganda for an alleged terrorist organization."
President Xi Jinping of China was recognized for having the overall "Tightest Grip on the Media," while Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of Myanmar, was named "Biggest Backslider in Press Freedom," a year and a half after her party took power and pardoned five journalists who had been jailed for reporting on the military. The CPJ's hopes for Suu Kyi's approach to the press were dashed this year as journalists continued to be imprisoned and obstructed while attempting to report on what the U.N. has called the "ethnic cleansing" of the Rohingya minority group.
Radsch stressed that while the U.S. continues to hold itself up as a model of free speech and press freedoms, the CPJ sees Trump's anti-media diatribes as deeply damaging.
"It's getting more difficult for the U.S. to advocate for free speech on the world stage," she said. "When Trump denigrates the news media and threatens libel suits against journalists, it sends the message to other leaders that it's acceptable to attack the press. We're seeing that in Turkey, the Philippines, Cambodia, Venezuela, and Myanmar, that leaders in those countries are starting to use Trump's rhetoric of "fake news"—this is not a situation where the U.S. is in a strong position to be lecturing anyone about free speech rights."