Ethics, Censorship and Fake News
2018 January 26
In 2009, the Obama administration purposely excluded Fox News from access to the news pool. (4)
In top-censored country Eritrea, government threats of imprisonment have led many journalists to choose exile over arrest. (2)
President Emmanuel Macron ordered a law in France to squash false information disseminated around electoral campaigns. (3)
After tweeting about whether or not NBC’s should lose it’s broadcasting license, U.S. President Donald Trump announces the “Fake News awards.”
President Donald Trump’s open criticism of the media is not censorship; he is merely exercising his rights guaranteed by the First Amendment.
Some political pundits and media experts have suggested that Trump’s Fake News Awards breach government ethics, however the President is not subject to the executive branch ethical standards.
2007: Eritrea expels last accredited foreign journalist. (2)
2009, October 22: Obama’s administration specifically excluded Fox News from joining the pool of reporters covering Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP). (4)
2011: Eritrea scrapped plans to provide mobile Internet for its citizens. (2)
2012: Pyongyang re-edits government newsreel to remove Kim Jong Un’s disgraced uncle from the archives after his execution. (2)
2013: Author turned blogger Angel Santiesteban is imprisoned in Cuba on non-journalist related allegations, but other journalists maintain he was targeted in retaliation for his critical government blog. (2)
2014, April: In Saudi Arabia, the General Commission for Audiovisual Media announces it will monitor online and YouTube content to ensure the Saudi contributors adhere to government guidelines. (2)
2014, April 22: Chinese secret white paper “Document 9” is widely leaked online. The document makes it clear that the role of media is to support the party’s unilateral rule. (2)
2017 January 11: U.S. Democrats in Congress a report detailing apparent Russian efforts to undermine politics in nineteen European countries since 2016, using cyber-attacks, disinformation, clandestine social media, financing of fringe political groups and in extreme cases, assassination attempts. (3)
2017 January 17: President Donald Trump releases his Fake News awards, a list of ten news reports by the main stream media that the president believed represented the most false news reporting of him prior to and after his election to the presidency. (1)
Every country has its own governing laws with respect to media responsibility, journalism and freedom of speech. President Trump released an innovative method for identifying and blasting those he considers purveyors of falsehood in journalism, by naming them in his “Fake News Award.” His public shaming of journalist via the Fake News Awards is certainly a different route than that taken by other counties, including those that are democracy driven and those that are not. (1)
Many American ethics experts have said that if the undertaking for the awards were carried out exclusively by political staff from the Trump campaign or the Republican National Committee- and not government employees in the White House- there wouldn’t be a problem. Ethics lawyer Richard Painter states, “There has to be a legitimate official government reason for the position you’re taking with the respect to the particular company.” He adds, “…here the only reason is they don’t like the coverage of the president.” (1)
Other ethics experts like Richard Briffault, a professor at Columbia Law School, say that White House staff members would be breaking the rules only if they endorsed or criticized an enterprise that had nothing to do with their jobs. He also says he does not see a difference between criticizing media on Twitter or in an interview or briefing. First Amendment expert, Frederick Schauer at University of Virginia Law School opens up to say nothing about the awards themselves would cause First Amendment problems, but that trouble could arise if Trump used them as an avenue to issue legal threats. (1)
Norman Eisen, who is familiar with ethics counseling, asserts that if the president creates a whole show around bashing specific media outlets, “there is more formality to it. When you elevate it into a program it becomes harder and harder to say it’s just the president bloviating and it feels more and more like official government activity.” On the other hand Washington University professor Kathleen Clark says, “I think the government ethics issue is, frankly another hook for raining the issue of the more fundamental way the Trump administration is trying to undermine democracy by undermining press.” (1)
In a time where false claims spread quickly and reach billions instantly, political manipulation is now more savvy and numerous political leaders promote the thought that something must be done. In his New Year’s speech to journalists, French President Emmanuel Macron said he’s ordering a new “legal arsenal” that would force news sites to reveal who owns them and where their money comes from. As France’s government prepares its new bill, watchdog “Reporters without Borders” is also looking on closely. “We are not opposed to the principle of a law against fake news. But the point is to be able to write a law without endangering the freedom to reveal things,” the group’s chief Christophe Deloire says. (3.)
Helping educate our members understand the bigger picture.
Both Walter Shaub and Norman Eisen (former head of the Office of Government Ethics and former special counsel for ethics, respectively) agreed in tweet that if White House staff members are involved, they would be in violation of the executive branch’s Standards of Ethical Conduct. (1)
The Standards of Ethical Conduct bans employees from using their office for “the endorsement of any product, service or enterprise.”
Richard Painter, an ethics lawyer in the George W. Bush administration says there are plenty of reasons for these employees to use their position to criticize; however an event to bash the media wouldn’t be one of them.
The President is not subject to the executive branch ethical standards.
10 Most Censored Countries include: (2.)
In Cuba, the tenth most censored country, the Internet is available to only a small portion of the population, despite outside investment to bring the country online. All print and broadcast media- including newspapers- are controlled by the Communist government.
1. CNN reports Trump’s ‘Fake News Awards’ could violate ethics rules, Ooops, they don’t apply to the President:
2. Ten Most Censored Countries
3. France is trying to outlaw fake news
4. Obama’s administration purposely excluded Fox News from access.
Story inspired by:
According to a list compiled by the Committee to Protect Journalists, of the 10 countries where the press is most restricted, Eritrea and North Korea are the first and second most censored countries worldwide. The list is based on research that included the use of tactics ranging from imprisonment and repressive laws to harassment of journalists and restrictions on Internet access. Eritrea is Africa’s worst jailer of journalists, with at least 23 behind bars. None of the jailed has been tried in court or has even been charged with crimes.
Could a democratic country like France outlaw fake news? Xenia Fedorova, director of Kremlin-backed broadcaster RT’s newly launched French-language channel, tells the Associated press that Macron’s new order “could be just the beginning of actually censoring freedom of speech.” As criticism pours in from media advocates who say the law spurs authoritarianism, tech experts believe it would be impossible to enforce and is sure to have a backfire effect. Author and technology historian Edward Tenner asserts that “the only long-term solution for the fake news problem is a more sophisticated public.”