Freedom of the press is enshrined in the United States Constitution, yet with the current president's consistent media bashing, there is fear that this right is under threat.
The Committee to Protect Journalists and the Freedom of the Press Foundation have joined forces with 24 other journalism groups to track First Amendment violations of this nature in order to deduce if there is an escalating trend.
The Press Freedom Tracker is designed to monitor press freedom violations for anyone interested in learning about the harsher realities of being a journalist in President Donald Trump's America. The site tracks arrests, physical assault, border stops, and instances in which a journalist is searched or their equipment is confiscated.
While the CPJ is funding the project and the site is managed by the FPF, they are relying on data from organizations like the Knight First Amendment Institute at Columbia University, Reporters Without Borders, and the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press, among others. The collaborative effort is symbolic as an afterthought, but practical by design; a united front of journalists and their advocates not only sends a message and educates the public on a serious problem, but strengthens the lines of support for those working in unfriendly environments.
"The other hope is that by creating a coalition project of this sort, is that it helps build the muscles of collaboration that will help strengthen any future action or response from these groups,” Alexandra Ellerback, senior U.S. researcher for the CPJ, who is also instrumental in managing the Press Freedom Tracker, told Mic.
So far, the site reveals that 2017 has been a grim year for journalism: 19 journalists have been arrested while doing their job, 10 face criminal charges, and 11 have been physically attacked. Notably, nine journalists were arrested and charged with felony rioting during Trump's inauguration, but Ellerback points out that press freedom violations began long before this administration.
"I don’t think we woke up on Nov. 9 and realized there was an issue,” said Ellerbeck, referencing President Barack Obama's deeply questionable methods of silencing leakers and whistleblowers as an example. Nevertheless, she acknowledged that the current administration's attacks on the press have lent a sense of urgency to the creation of the site.
Moving forward, the Press Freedom Tracker partners will need to compare their 2017 data with past years for a full picture of press freedom violations in the U.S. Even then, clarifying the problem only begins to tackle it. A pervasive distrust of the mainstream media has been building among Americans for years, and trust takes time and intention to rebuild, not numbers.
“The rhetoric coming from the White House is a problem, but it has exaggerated a problem that was already there,” Sarah Repucci, senior director of Global Publications of Freedom House, an advocacy group for democracy and human rights, explained to Mic. “I think Trump was able to take advantage of that kind of rhetoric because the foundation had already been laid.”
By remaining clearheaded about the difficult realities of American journalists today and the role public perception has in the media's work, those responsible for the project's continued evolution can make it an important part of a greater solution. Any step toward informing the public is a step forward, and while the Press Freedom Tracker is just off the ground, its potential is already impressive.
Banner and thumbnail credit: Flickr user Darron Birgenheier