BERLIN – Journalists should be observers and not stakeholders in the events they cover, whether working in a small city in Eastern Europe or the White House. But as journalists from all over the world have become more and more themselves, many have wondered at what point it is justified to put down the pen and talk – and have come to very different conclusions.
In Germany, a group of regional reporters decided that this point came in May, when the far-right Alternative Germany (ADD) announced at a news conference that a reporter with the top Bild tabloid would not be entitled to ask questions during the event. Michael Sauerbier, who was ruled out at the news briefing, has raised critical questions during a previous press event about alleged officials linked to an official Afghanistan official in a right-wing extremist group.
It was not for the first time when reporters were excluded from AfD, but with attachments and rhetoric, all journalists in the room immediately agreed what to do. They left the room; the press conference was canceled.
If any of those present at that time would watch the exchange of attempts between President Trump and CNN White House reporter Jim Acosta on Wednesday, he might have had some flashbacks that day in May.
During the mid-month press conference, Acosta asked whether Trump "dignified immigrants," calling a migrant caravan from Central America "an invasion." When an intern of the White House tried to return the microphone, Acosta resisted lifting his arm.
"Forgive me, lady," he told the woman.
Trump's response was less subtle. "CNN should be ashamed of itself, working for them. You're a rude, terrible person." You should not work for CNN, you're a very bad person, "said Trump for Acosta. Trump had long thought of being able to get credentials from journalists. "Why do we work so hard to work with the media when it's corrupt? Do I get my credentials?" He asked on Twitter in May.
And on Wednesday, the White House seemed to be following these threats for the first time when he suspended Acosta's press credentials in an unprecedented move.
In other nations where extreme right parties openly threaten democratic principles or where journalists have to worry about their lives, Acosta was widely marked on Thursday morning. His combative questions about the president earned his fans in the social media in India, for example, where some praised the desire to take over the chief commander.
A user created a video that contrasts with Acosta's questions with the record of an event in 2015 when Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi hosted a holiday event for journalists – and harassed him to self-sign. Modi did not hold a press conference where journalists could ask questions during their free time.
Foreign journalists were not alone in their support for Acosta. During the press conference on Wednesday, reporter Trump immediately urged to hurry immediately with his colleague's defense. But should US correspondents descend the way of their foreign colleagues and boycott briefings?
The bar for such actions was relatively high abroad. In one case, foreign journalists came out of an Israeli press conference with Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu and his Australian counterpart, Malcolm Turnbull, last year, after the police ordered a bandwidth search for a photographer from the European Press Agency. The incident was subsequently described as "useless and humiliating" by the Foreign Press Association of the country, and its reflection stirred the Israeli government.
In the case of the German sickness incident, it seems to have had an impact as well. The senior party officials have recently held a roundtable discussion with top German publishers to encourage more moderate dialogue, even if the slogans "false news" have not disappeared from the streets.
AfD and Trump are, of course, hardly comparable. Trump sometimes hired the media and sometimes attacked them. He threatened to sue, but he has not gone so far. AFD, meanwhile, is an opposition party with limited influence.
When former US Secretary of State Sean Spicer excluded more news organizations from a press briefing outside the February list, but invited conservative publications to join, only a few media outlets decided to boycott the event. The reasons for the refusal to boycott the briefing were diverse: Some have argued that continuing to cover the administration was more important than setting an example. Other more polarized news stories have appeared to be favored.
On the contrary, Germany has a more moderate media landscape, where extreme-left or right-wing publications and networks have so far received little traction. German journalists often publish statements by common umbrella associates when they fear violations of press freedom, regardless of the editorial positions of their works.
In response to the May incident, such an association issued a clear directive to its members: "We are asking all our members to attend AFD events only if all journalists have the right to ask questions."
Joanna Slater of New Delhi contributed to this report. Part of this post was first published on 10 May 2018.
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