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Saturday, February 25, 2017

Is the USA becoming a land of censorship, prejudice and paranoia?

Every politician at some stage or another has a beef about a particular journalist, a publication or a media outlet. It is part of the job. You shrug your shoulders and carry on, because effective scrutiny, no matter how inaccurate you think it is  or how partisan, is what makes our democracy tick. And let's face it, the journalist is just doing his or her job.

It is when a politician starts to use their position to penalise those who don't agree with them that we really need to worry. A coup d'etat starts with the TV and radio stations.  Dictators control the media so as to suppress dissent.

In a democracy those who are obsessed with command and control, who do not feel secure in their position may try to browbeat the media into being a more malleable beast. Normally it stops there but yesterday, the US President and his staff crossed a line.

I like the USA. I have been there a few times and have always found its citizens to be open and welcoming. Admittedly, I have been stopped and searched at airports and ferry ports, but that was in 2004 in Boston at the same time the Democrats were having their convention.

I did not like their immigration control. I felt that it was intrusive, overly-bureaucratic and just a little paranoid. But then again it is their right as a country to check on the credentials of those entering.

Goodness only knows what it is like now, after Trump's executive order and incidents such as that of a Swansea based Teacher being forced from an airplane in Reykjavik because he is a Muslim.

The country that welcomed so many immigrants over the last three centuries and which is built on the skills and passion of those people, many fleeing persecution in their own homeland, is rapidly becoming less and less friendly as it retreats into its shell. It is not a country I want to go back to, at least not whilst Trump and his ilk are at the helm.

And then there is the constant barracking of the press, accusing them of reporting lies and false news because the Trump administration is meeting resistance, because it is hitting the brick wall that are the checks and balances built into the constitution, because the President's own fast and loose way with facts are being exposed and because the contradictions at the heart of this new Presidency are being reported on.

Yesterday, the White House barred several news organizations from an off-camera press briefing, handpicking a select group of reporters that included a number of conservative outlets friendly toward Donald Trump to attend instead. The excluded organisations included such respected institutions as the Guardian, the New York Times, Politico, CNN, BuzzFeed, the BBC, and the Daily Mail.

Conservative publications such as Breitbart News, the One America News Network and the Washington Times were allowed into the meeting, as well as TV networks CBS, NBC, Fox and ABC. To their credit the Associated Press and Time were invited but boycotted the briefing.

All of this followed in the wake of Donald Trump once again declaring that much of the media was “the enemy of the American people”. It is difficult to know which to feel the most disgusted about, the fact that the US President is trying to manipulate and censor the media, or at the journalists who turned up for the briefing irrespective of that power-play.

This development strikes at the very heart of America's democratic traditions. The media may at times be irascible, irritating, biased and a real pain in the backside but they are integral to the freedoms that Americans enjoy. Their role is to scrutinise and in that respect they are the people's friends.

If ordinary Americans are not concerned by these latest developments and the tone and the direction that Trump's administration is going in then they do not know their history. These are worrying times for one of the world's biggest democracy.

The jury is still out as to what sort of America this censoring, prejudicial, paranoiac will leave for his successor. Let us hope that it is one that is still recognisable as the democratic and welcoming country that many of its citizens and their ancestors chose as their home not so many years ago.
If the White House has barred British news organizations such as the Guardian, the BBC, and the Daily Mail, then surely, by this act alone, President Trump has put himself beyond the Pale, and should not therefore be accorded the honour of a state visit.
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