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Trump’s style of ‘real news’
It is not surprising that US President Donald Trump is leading the chorus to prosecute the leakers of government and state information to the media.
His passage through the White House over the first six months of his presidency has been decorated with deception and blatant lies; the damning of media not aligned to his cause; and spokespersons who have invented the notion of “alternative facts” to mislead on the facts of major issues.
Trump TV, which now broadcasts out of Trump Tower and operates with funds from Trump’s campaign contributions, has begun broadcasting “real news” that makes claims about the outstanding success of the Trump Presidency, ignoring completely anything negative.
The two-fold strategy is to eliminate leaks to the networks and major newspapers while offering to the American public Trump’s brand of what is real news, ie, distortions of reality to favour the presidency.
“Right now, we still have a free press that is alert and active. But what President Trump is doing is a direct threat to that, and we have to be clear about that,” analysed academic researcher and lecturer on media studies Tom Rosenstiel.
Consider why the US President has cunningly adopted this two-fold strategy designed to staunch completely the flow of information out of the White House, that is, information about the misdeeds of his government, and its intentions to transform the democratic traditions of the American society.
A large chunk of the information that has surfaced about Trump, his followers, inclusive of close friends and family, their links with Russia and that country’s attempts to interfere in the US election (according to the national security agencies), their lies, deceptions and questionable financial deals has been disclosed through leaks from the WH and elsewhere in the state bureaucracy.
Moreover, leaked information, according to President Trump, has been flowing out of the national security agencies.
Trump may not have a grasp of complex economic, health and international relations matters, but he is a past-master at strategy to inveigle groups of supporters towards deceptive ends. For instance, his tirade against his attorney general, allegedly about Jeff Sessions excusing himself from the Russian probe, was used to force the AG to take action against those who would leak information to the media.
Sessions has therefore acquired presidential fiat to prosecute anyone leaking information to the media. Given his own history and his stated intention to hold on to his job, Sessions has taken to the assignment with relish.
Politicians, wherever they occupy office, are naturally disposed to secreting information from the public about their corrupt and incompetent behaviours.
Policies and measures adopted in an influential political culture such as the US become influential to developing countries.
What of our political culture and how it looks on the leaking of information from government and state sources?
The present government floated a whistle blower bill through the Parliament; the bill ended up before a joint select committee.
It was put out for comment from the general public and organisations with a stake in the information industry.
One of the major concerns expressed by the Media Association, from Disclosure Today, and other civic organisation was that the draft legislation proposed to have the leaking of information sanitised through a specially established commission at the same time that it debars persons from going directly to the media/journalists with information on wrong-doing.
The draft bill died with the last Parliament, and there has been no indication that the Government will seek to have it or some other bill brought back to the Parliament.
That, however, should not be considered the end of that.
With a Government in place that has not been able to make significant positive impact on the major problems facing the country, ie, the need to re-float the economy, and to place it on a growth path, and Government’s inability to take policy decisions to assist the security forces to root-out criminality in the society, such a Government faced with the challenge to win a second term in office can persuade itself of the need to adopt measures to stop the flow of information to the public on incompetence and corruption.
Understandably, it cannot be that the indiscriminate leaking of information on all government/state activities be allowed to take place on a “free–for-all” basis. There are areas of government/state activities which must be withheld at least for a period of time.
However, regimes in power often hide behind what they claim to be issues of national security and other “sensitive” matters of state, and so deny the public of information it is entitled to through the media.
MATT, Disclosure Today, Fixin T&T and the range of civic organisations have to place their views on whistle blower legislation on the national agenda for discussion.
Those views must include proposals for the release of information in the public interest in the public domain for scrutiny. So too should the organisations voice a view on the narrow range of matters which can be withheld in the national interest for at least a period of time, before becoming available to the public for scrutiny.
No government is going to easily cede power for people to participate meaningfully in their affairs; that power has to be prised-out of the grasp of government by people-based organisations.
We have to begin asserting a public interest agenda for discussion rather than simply reacting to government’s agenda.