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Journalism in the age of Trump

News organisations around the world are scrambling to figure how to cover the administration of President Trump in a new age of open hostility towards the press.

Ironically for a person who craves media attention, the new US president has said he hates reporters and called journalists “among the most dishonest human beings on earth”. His chief strategist Stephen Bannon has described the media as “the opposition party”.

The International Federation of Journalists, which represents 600,000 members in 140 countries, has called on Trump to stop attacking the media and said it was deeply concerned about clashes between him and the press, including intimidation and threats against journalists, media bans and proposals to amend libel laws.

Two weeks into the Trump administration, news organisations like Reuters that operate across frontiers are also navigating restrictive changes to US border controls and practices that threaten to inhibit free movement or invite heightened scrutiny, interrogation, search or detention upon entry to or exit from the United States.

American journalists are coming to terms with a harsh new reality: that the standards by which foreign regimes are covered and where censorship, prosecution, visa denials, and even physical threats to journalists are sometimes encountered now apply at home.

Thanks to a 165-year tradition of impartial reporting and 75 years of an editorial code forged when the world was at war and the organisation’s independence was imperilled, Reuters has advantage in this new era of “fake news” and “alternative facts”.

As the editor-in-chief, Stephen Adler, put it when he unveiled robust rules for Reuters staff this week, the air is thick with questions and theories about how to cover the new administration.

It’s not yet known how sharp the administration’s attacks on the press will be or to what extent they will be accompanied by legal restrictions on news-gathering, he said.

The answer is not to oppose the administration, to appease it, to boycott its briefings or to use Reuters’ platform to rally support for the media.

Reuters already knows what to do “because we do it every day, and we do it all over the world”.

Adler told his journalists “never be intimidated” and gave them practical guidance on producing journalism unhindered by official constraints - Covering Trump - the Reuters way

At the core of his instructions are the Thomson Reuters Trust Principles drawn up in 1941, which state that “the integrity, independence and freedom from bias of Reuters shall at all times be fully preserved”.

“This is our mission, in the U.S. and everywhere. We make a difference in the world because we practice professional journalism that is both intrepid and unbiased,” Adler said. 

“We operate with calm integrity not just because it’s in our rulebook but because - over 165 years - it has enabled us to do the best work and the most good.”

The editor-in-chief’s message should go far to preserve Reuters’ reputation for integrity in the new hostile media environment despite US administration edicts that some say threaten to prove the most corrosive assault on liberty and freedom of expression in living memory. ■