Comments /770 Views / Friday, 6 January 2017 00:00
By Jagath C. Savanadasa
Repeated attacks on the press by the President-elect of the US Donald Trump have been counter-productive, according to the latest trends in the US.
They have actually had a beneficial impact on the press in upping daily subscriptions of some of the world’s leading newspapers and news magazine published in the US.
Adverse reaction by newspapers and magazines on Trump’s rhetorical gaffes and inaccuracies ever since the Presidential campaign commenced a year ago had been a regular feature throughout that torrid period of electioneering.
It cannot be however denied that the traditional media made a lot of mistakes. They relied too much on a Clinton victory and ignored the emerging reality of a possible victory for Trump but all that is now history. It is however a bitter truth that 63 million Americans who voted Trump did not think that the way the mainstream press thought.
However, every time there had been a media attack on Trump, he had reacted rather brashly with a counter attack on Twitter, in the course of which Trump has threatened to mete out punishment to the traditional news media.
Recently Trump had cited the case of ‘Vanity Fair’, the 116-year-old US magazine.
In response to some critical comments by the said magazine about the ‘appetiser’ served by the Trump-owned restaurant, rather cynically called the flagship eatery of the White House North (Trump Tower in New York), the President-elect had issued a stinging response. This related to the circulation of Vanity Fair. He ridiculed its fiscal health on Twitter. He had added insult to injury by calling the Editor of the magazine Graydon Carter as not having talent and predicting the demise of the magazine. He asked people not to read Vanity Fair.
But such attacks by the President-to-be which were apparently designed to condemn ‘Vanity Fair’ have had a counteractive effect on the regular readers of the magazine.
Also the response from the publisher was typical of a bold and unyielding news leader and in a country like the USwhere press freedom is of paramount and democratic significance.
The publisher of ‘Vanity Fair’ went to town with President to be Donald Trump’s Twitter attack, saying that it is ‘the magazine Trump does not want people to read’ and asked readers to subscribe now. It was a fervent appeal.
And what was the result? Subscription increased a hundred times over its daily average and its circulation was upped to 42,000, the highest recorded in its over-century-old history!
Trump planning to punish the media
The above is just one instance of public reaction against efforts to muzzle the press in truly democratic societies. In the US, unlike what happened in Sri Lanka and India, threats to media freedom (provided it is of course not blatantly misused) is a sacred tenet of a free society and no government could usurp that right.
I say that because readers will recall the action taken against the local ‘Sun’ group of newspapers way back in the last century which destroyed the very foundations of media freedom by the Bandaranaike Government. A worse fate befell the Lake House group – indeed a fate that led to the nationalisation of Lake House. This undoubtedly led to the demise of at least to a substantial degree of independence of the press in subsequent years, especially the last 10 years, when the previous Government was in power. I believe the situation is different now and the State-regulated media has been given a comparatively free hand.
One could also recall Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s press censorship and the closure of a leading newspaper group ‘The Indian Express’ in the world’s largest democracy, India, and despite all this remains a pillar and fountain-head of press freedom.
Does media reaction herald a revival?
It is perhaps a reality (though we have yet to see it fully) that the media blasting in which Trump is repeatedly engaged is just the sort of medicine that the US media is hopeful of capitalising on its journey of recovery.
But it should be remembered that throughout 2015 the media has had to face the challenge posed by the web.
Also for years the likes of Apple and Google reproduce everything that the press publishes at no cost. They also grab a lion’s share of advertising which hurts the publishers of magazine and newspapers. The latter has had to resort to cost-cutting exercises like reducing staff and restrategising their operations so as to survive. Above that other methods were designed to retain the old and faithful customer base of the press – its daily, weekly and monthly publications. After all it is the traditional media that is submerged by the electronic players.
The US media, it is reliably learnt, has reflected a sort of recovery in circulation since the Presidential elections – indeed a shot in its arm since the President-to-be turned out to be the media basher.
It is reported that magazines like the ‘New Yorker’ and ‘Vanity Fair’ in addition to newspapers like the Wall Street Journal, The New York Times, The Washington Post and The Los Angeles Times have had a big boost in subscriptions and donations.
Fake news has indeed become a big business in the US but they bear perils and people who are misled by the rising tide of fake news will now turn to traditional and credible sources of reading news. In such a scenario the old, established and reliable press publications could hopefully stand to revive themselves in this challenging world of press publications.
Genuine and trustworthy news costs money. Contracting advertising (that is lost to the electronic media) despite, circulation gains, have caused heavy losses. The upkeep of publishing houses, especially personnel engaged in newsgathering, is tough and those in the rank of journalists in the US have actually dwindled
In addition, during the tenure of President Barack Obama though there was quite a high degree of transparency as regards politics and state administration, it too did adopt an aggressive approach to press leaks and investigations were launched so as to discover how such leaks occurred.
Despite such moves during President Obama’s tenure of office, the White House was to a degree transparent in regard to official news.
Ominous signs from the new administration
However, not only is the incoming President openly anti-press and an apparent objector of investigation and open press commentary of the ‘goings on’ in current politics, his team too looks equally hostile.
The first sign of this has been from the newly-appointed Chief-of-Staff at the White House who has said that he would take over control from the national press corps in respect of the seating arrangements of the White House press room.
The press is however unlikely to be worried about this, but it may lead to the favourites of the new administration being afforded the most and best seats.
Another likely development is the elimination of daily press briefings. This probably will pave way for the not-so-well-trained news reporters to access the best news and at the earliest.
However, it goes without saying that an effective reporter knows how to get past the politicians.
So it’s going to be somewhat tough going for the trusted press corps but then just looking at the reactions to President Trump’s tirades, the future does look good though challenging for traditional journalism.
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