USA: Reporters Without Borders (RSF) condemns Trump’s threats to imprison journalists during a potential second term

RSF warns that Trump’s new threats against American press should be taken seriously and that a federal press shield law is needed to protect the sanctity of journalistic sources.

Former President Donald Trump has reportedly held discussions with advisors about how to circumvent the First Amendment and jail journalists during a potential second term in office. According to Rolling Stone, “Trump has privately strategized about what a second term, potentially starting in 2025, could look like, he’s begun occasionally soliciting ideas from conservative allies for how the U.S. government and Justice Department could go about turning his desires — for brutally imprisoning significant numbers of reporters — into reality.”

Trump made a similar threat in public at a rally on November 7th, just one day before this week’s midterm elections, when he mused about jailing reporters for not surrendering their sources and even made a vulgar joke about sexual assault in prison: “You tell the reporter who is it … and if the reporter doesn’t want to tell you it’s ‘bye bye.’ The reporter goes to jail. When the reporter learns he’s going to be married to a certain prisoner that’s extremely strong, tough, and mean, he will say, ‘you know, I think I’m going to give you the information.'”

“The former president has often spoken admiringly of authoritarians who punish critics and imprison journalists. We need to take his threats to mimic them seriously, and one of the best ways to do that would be to pass a federal press shield law to protect journalists and their sources.”

Clayton Weimers, Executive Director of the Reporters Without Borders US Bureau

Considering these threats, Congress should pass the PRESS Act, which would limit the government’s ability to compel journalists to reveal their sources. Protection of anonymous sources is essential to investigative journalism and free press. 

Not the first time Trump has targeted journalism

During President Trump’s first term in office, he asked what could be done to punish members of the media  for doing their jobs. According to the New York Times, Trump broached the topic of jailing journalists who published classified information with then FBI director James Comey in 2017.

Press freedom conditions began declining swiftly during the Trump administration. In 2020, President Trump’s fourth year in office, a record-breaking number of journalists were arrested, in addition to 856 other types of aggressions committed against journalists – the majority of which were deliberate and unprovoked physical attacks on clearly identified reporters. The final days of the Trump administration were marked by an insurrection in Washington, D.C. in which five people were killed, and rioters damaged tens of thousands of dollars worth of media equipment owned by The Associated Press, smashed cameras while yelling “CNN sucks,” and scrawled the words, “Murder The Media” onto doors inside the Capitol Building.

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