BY ARA KHACHATOURIAN
The state of the press in America and elsewhere around the world is experiencing a decline not seen in recent years. This reality can be attributed to governments’ and organizations’ overt disdain toward the press and free expression.
Silencing, or as has become the case here in the United States, disparaging the free press has become common practice and is the most outright cowardice act in which the perpetrators engage in order to advance their despotic and often criminal agendas at the expense of the people they serve, thus shattering democratic norms and preventing a discourse that generally can benefit society.
The Trump Administration’s full-throttle attack on the press from the days on the campaign trail all the way to the dais at the White House is putting the press on the defensive with detrimental consequences that include coverage of events and issues from the lens of the oppressed rather than that of an objective pursuit of the truth.
If the leaders of the United States, long the self-appointed watchdog of democracy around the world, are daring to advance an anti-freedom-of-press agenda, what is to stop others to advance their agenda against a free press in other parts of the world?
However, leaders in Turkey and Azerbaijan, for example, do not need a carte blanche from the US to oppress, imprison or outright kill journalists whose views they don’t share or whose coverage of issues endangers their despotic regimes. However, the current penchant for disparaging the press in the US doesn’t help, nor can it carry any weight.
Which bring us to Armenia. This year, the watchdog group Reporters without Borders ranked Armenia 79th in its World Freedom of Press Index; down four notches from the previous year. Azerbaijan (at 162) and Turkey (at 155) significantly trail Armenia, which is not to say that Armenia and its authorities, as well as the political players there do not have room to improve. Stories of harassment or violence toward reporters, especially at critical political turning points, have become common place in Armenia and the silence within among politicians and lawmakers is deafening (one wonders whether non-ruling parties also subscribe to the same oppressive posturing).
Having said that, the press also has a responsibility to stay true to the tenets of journalism and engage in reporting facts and truths in order to reclaim its credibility and trust from the public, which has generally begun to distrust the press for its often skewed coverage of events. Here in the United States, the election and its aftermath should serve as a lesson for the press to emerge as more credible rather than the self-imposed victim status that most reporters have adopted in the wake of the administration’s overt disregard for the fourth estate that is becoming a dangerous new norm in Washington.
As we mark World Press Freedom Day today, we must remember that resorting to censorship and punishment of free speech by governments, groups and individuals in power only illustrates their insecurities and their choice to suppress dissent and divergent approaches exposes their fears.