EDITORIAL: Never gag media; invest in PR

EDITORIAL: Never gag media; invest in PR
freedom press concept. (image: Vector design]

Former US President Donald J. Trump courted controversy and stirred love and hatred in equal measure. For those who loved him, he was a sharp-shooting personality who never had time to sugar-coat the truth for a comforting lie.

But for his critics, Trump was simply a self-seeking individual who had found refuge in power to advance his moment of fame. Although controversial, Trump vehemently opposed the media, particularly CNN, but he never at any point attempted to muzzle the press.

So, where he felt he was aggrieved, he used the same tool of information to fight off what he believed to be unfavourable to him, and so was the birth of the famous phrase “fake news.”

For example, in an interview with former Arkansas governor and Republican presidential candidate, Mike Huckabee, at the height of his presidential bid in 2017, Trump summarily described the media as “fake.”

He said: “The media is really-the word. I think one of the greatest of all terms I have come up with—is fake.’’

His abrasive relationship with the media grew to deafening levels and became uglier, but he seemingly stuck to his mantra of “hear all and judge by their content.”

As he sought his second term going into the 2020 electoral duel with the current President, Joe Biden, Trump again found himself at the nucleus of controversy, this time with technology companies such as Twitter and Facebook. With wild allegations of election rigging and favouritism, he was soon blacklisted by the tech giants.

However, the interesting bit about this was that despite the scuffle with the press about the content and reportage, Trump respected the sanctity of free media. He never used the instruments of power to subdue the press, which constitutes a core element of a democratic society. Journalists could get feedback on their questions promptly, whether in a polite or berating manner.

But it is agreeable that there was no frustration for those trying to get information. Nonetheless, this did not prevent Trump from commanding a phobia and a mania among his subjects. After all, this is what a democratic society is made of—freedom of choice, thought, and expression—for a better society.

This piece is not intended to paint US as a saint. Infact, in the 2022 ranking by Reporters Without Borders, the US is at position 42 in terms of media favouritism—worse than Namibia, which is Africa’s most media-friendly country. But Donald Trump’s script can help most African leaders who live with the fear of the media.

What most people fail to understand, especially law enforcers, is that this is a profession governed by codes of conduct and laws.

In South Sudan, the Media Authority Code of Conduct 2021, Chapter V sections (1) and (2) stipulate that journalists must demonstrate courage in news gathering and take responsibility by ensuring their end products contain accurate information before airing or publishing them.

Having this in mind, preventing journalists from covering an event is withdrawing a trust bestowed on them by the Media Authority that vets them. This in itself is a violation of the law and citizens’ access to information. For a progressive society, the media must be given space. Let’s do it the Trump’s way!