The Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) held its annual International Press Freedom Awards ceremony last night in New York. This event celebrates international journalists and the trials and tribulations they face in covering oppressive regimes around the world. Journalists from Egypt, India, Turkey, and El Salvador were honored this year. But this year’s ceremony hit a bit closer to home. Discussion of threats to the freedom of the American press is not usually a focal point at the event, but Donald Trump is no ordinary U.S. president-elect, and his threats against the news media are of grave concern to many in the industry.
A number of TV and print journalists and executives attended and spoke at the event, including committee chair Sandra Mims Rowe, CNN’s Jeff Zucker, and Christiane Amanpour, who received the Burton Benjamin Memorial Award for extraordinary and sustained achievement in her championing of the rights of journalists around the world.
Amanpour lamented the current state of journalism in her acceptance speech, stating “I never in a million years thought I would be up here on stage appealing for the freedom and safety of American journalists at home.” She continued:
We, the media, can either contribute to a more functional system or to deepening the political dysfunction.
Which world do we want to leave our children?
In the same way, politics has been driven into poisonous partisan and paralyzing corners, where political differences are criminalized, where the zero sum game means in order for me to win, you have to be destroyed. What happened to compromise and common ground?
That same dynamic has infected powerful segments of the American media.
Like it has in Egypt and Turkey and Russia, where journalists have been pushed into political partisan corners as we see here tonight–delegitimized, accused of being enemies of the state.
Journalism itself has become weaponized. We have to stop it.
Mims Rowe talked about how potential harm to the news media and freedom of the press “would further imperil journalists everywhere.” During her opening remarks, she stated “The United States simply cannot provide ammunition to anyone whose goal it is to silence a critical press.”
Zucker, who was the chairman of this year’s dinner, was part of the highly-publicized off-the-record meeting with other TV news media figures that took place at Trump Tower on Monday. According to CNN’s Brian Stelter, Zucker brought up that meeting during his remarks:
“I want to use this occasion to reiterate what I said directly to the president-elect yesterday,” Zucker said. “As the new leader of the free world, we expect that he will preserve longstanding traditions that ensure coverage of his presidency.”
Zucker specifically cited the importance of the “press pool,” a small group of journalists who travel with the president and report on his actions.
“The role of the press is vital to our democracy,” he said. “This is not about access for the press itself. It is about access for all Americans.”
So the multi-million dollar question is now: How will our country’s most prominent news media outlets including CNN and the New York Times cover Trump, and will they be able to cover him without obstruction? Zucker isn’t sure. “It is still too early to draw conclusions about how this administration will work with the media,” he said. “I think it is fair to say that based on some of what we saw during the campaign, we have some reason for concern.”