Macron’s Muck Up

And the end of the 'Fake News' era in the United States

I’m Scott Nover. Welcome back to Pressing, a newsletter about press freedom. If you haven’t yet subscribed, you can do so here and receive this letter in your inbox every Tuesday morning.

This is the 60th issue of Pressing and it’s great to have you with me. Please send me feedback, thoughts, suggestions, and tips at sgnover@gmail.com.


Macron Backs an Oppressive New Security Law

Want to record the police? Don’t do it in France, Emmanuel Macron says.

A new security bill in France has sparked outrage among the press freedom community for criminalizing filming police as they work. Violations would be punishable with a fine of $53,300 (or, €45,000) and a one-year stint in prison.

It’s a disarmingly authoritarian move for a leader who has positioned himself as a proponent of press freedom.

“I understand the sentiments being expressed and I respect them. But you must understand my role right now, it’s to do two things: to promote calm and also to protect these rights,” Macron told Al Jazeera recently. “I will always defend in my country the freedom to speak, to write, to think, to draw.” (Re: draw, remember the Charlie Hebdo massacre just a few years ago.)

The proposed law has sparked protests, but even under national pressure, the French police haven’t acted appropriately—they already tear gassed protesters and arrested a television reporter who was covering the demonstrations.

If Western democracies want to be seen as beacons of press freedom, they need to act like beacons of press freedom. When the police cannot be questioned, filmed, or photographed, they operate without accountability. The citizens of France will be worse off if this bill passes.

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How to Restore America from the ‘Fake News’ Era

There’s been a lot of chatter about how to reverse the anti-press freedom agenda of the Trump administration, but Joel Simon at the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) has a set of concrete proposals. Since anti-press rhetoric has been such a big part of Trump’s effort to delegitimize independent media, Simon wants to see Biden thoroughly bake press freedom advocacy into his foreign policy and diplomacy.

“One way that the Biden administration can reverse some of the damage is to speak out consistently whenever journalists are jailed or they’re threatened or there’s censorship, incorporate the defense of press freedom into its foreign policy,” Simon said on CNN’s Reliable Sources Sunday.

Simon said that one way to do this is for Biden to appoint a special presidential envoy for press freedom “who would be empowered to speak out whenever journalists are under threat and ensure that U.S. foreign policy is focused on defending journalists and their rights around the world.”

In the same segment, PEN America’s Suzanne Nossel highlighted her organization’s call for a congressional commission on local news, which she says would help rebuild a “healthy information ecosystem.”

Obviously, the Trump administration has done nothing to help rebuild local news, so it feels bizarre to transition back to leadership that might care enough to acknowledge the role of journalism, local or otherwise. I feel like it’s a luxury to discuss these things, but it’s also uncomfortable—like working out a muscle that you’ve ignored for four years.

But I wouldn’t sell that short: The recognition that journalism is important, Simon and Nossel assert, is a significant policy position after four years of America’s government denigrating the press.

The scandal at the U.S. Agency for Global Media (USAGM) exemplifies how different the last four years have been. When Trump tried to Trumpify the Voice of America, Radio Free Europe and the rest of our state-run but editorially independent media outlets, it signaled a lack of recognition about how the agency actually worked and why we fund it.

At their core, these outlets promote democracy around the world by delivering reliable news and information to people in less-free societies who might not otherwise get it. The credibility and accuracy of these outlets, plus their willingness to report unsavory news about the U.S. government was the entire point of the USAGM as an instrument of American foreign policy. By attempting to undermine the agency, Trump never appreciated that he was further undermining America’s own credibility abroad.

Trust in U.S. media has suffered under Trump, and Biden has an opportunity to help rebuild it. CPJ and PEN each have proposals as to how to do this, including stronger pro-press freedom rhetoric, strengthening the USAGM, calling out press freedom abusers, committing to bringing home journalists held hostage, and filling freedom of information requests.

CPJ framed the imperative well: “The robust, pluralistic, and independent domestic media, protected by the First Amendment and a political culture that tolerated and even encouraged aggressive reporting, has been the envy of journalists everywhere,” they wrote. “History backs our firm belief that in the realm of press freedom, the U.S. is the indispensable nation.”


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