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Journalist Advocate Responds To Trump's Latest Attack On Media


The hostility against the U.S. media follows a global trend of increased arrests and attacks on journalists worldwide. That's according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, a nonprofit that advocates for journalists. To hear more about this, we called the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists, Joel Simon. I started our conversation by asking him how his group assesses something like the level of antagonism toward journalists worldwide.

JOEL SIMON: One of the things that we do each year is we release this data of journalists killed, journalists in prison around the world. So we have a very good baseline going back several decades. And those numbers are the highest they've ever been, particularly the number of journalists in prison. Last year, we set a record - 259 journalists imprisoned around the world. What are the leading countries? They're Turkey, Egypt and China.

We're seeing record numbers of journalists in prison around the world. We're seeing very high levels of journalists killed. Syria, for example. Mexico is a place where, this year, we've seen a sharp increase in violence. So no question the data suggests that this is the most dangerous and deadly time for journalists ever.

MARTIN: And why would that be?

SIMON: One factor is that autocratic leaders around the world are threatened by independent information. There's been an information revolution. And so, it's easier for people to disseminate critical news and information that threatens their power. The other thing is that media as an institution is much weaker, and there is less consequence clearly for taking violent and repressive action against journalists. It's more tolerated. Part of that is because of what's happening right here in the United States. There's less international pressure. There's less opprobrium associated with this kind of behavior in a global environment.

MARTIN: And that - one of the reasons I wanted to talk to you is that because you do have a global perspective. I think that there are those people who follow the news who are aware of these kind of verbal confrontations between particularly, say, members of the Trump administration and members of the news media and who would say that they simply don't belong in the same conversation when you talk about journalists being killed in Mexico, journalists being imprisoned in Turkey and in Egypt and journalists being sort of physically attacked in places around the world, et cetera, et cetera. And

some people might object to this conversation and say American reporters just need to toughen up. And so I would ask you, do you see any relationship between the kinds of behavior toward the press that you see elsewhere in the world and these verbal confrontations that have gotten - or tweeted confrontations - that have gotten so much attention in the American media?

SIMON: Well, I don't equate one with the other necessarily. But remember, we have a member of Congress who assaulted a journalist. We have a number of journalists who've been arrested in this country. So perhaps we're not the press freedom paradise we like to think of ourselves as. But I think where the damage is really done is when we go around the world, and a lot of journalists there were asking us, what's happening in the United States?

How can it be that you have a president of a democratic country who is using this kind of language to disparage not just individual journalists but the media as an institution, every day that he expresses contempt for the role of the media? I think that undermines the ability of journalists all over the world to stand up and defend their right to push back against repressive leaders. And that's the relationship that I see.

MARTIN: That's Joel Simon. He is the executive director of the Committee to Protect Journalists. We reached him in New York. Joel Simon, thank you so much for speaking with us.

SIMON: Thank you so much for having me.

(SOUNDBITE OF IV THE POLYMATH'S "SETBACKS") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Michel Martin is the weekend host of All Things Considered, where she draws on her deep reporting and interviewing experience to dig in to the week's news. Outside the studio, she has also hosted "Michel Martin: Going There," an ambitious live event series in collaboration with Member Stations.