National Press Club

National Press Club, Journalism Institute propose Trump-Xi competition

April 6, 2017 | By Kathy Kiely | kkiely@press.org

As the presidents of the United States and China hold face-to-face meetings April 6 and 7, much attention is expected to be focused on points of contention between U.S. President Donald Trump and Chinese President Xi Jinping. The National Press Club and its Journalism Institute however are more concerned with what the two leaders have in common.

China is one of the world’s most notorious violators of the basic human right to freedom of speech. According to Freedom House, its record of harassing journalists, dissidents and users of the internet has gotten worse as Xi has erected what Reporters Without Borders describes as a “great electronic wall” to keep out inconvenient truths. At various times, western news organizations, including the New York Times and Bloomberg, have had their websites blocked or reporters expelled. Among the 38 journalists imprisoned by China, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, are 2010 Nobel Peace Prize laureate Liu Xiaobo and Huang Qi, a Reporters Without Borders 2016 honoree.

“Under normal circumstances, the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute would call upon President Trump to press his counterpart to release these political prisoners and to encourage China to join the civilized world in accepting the dissent that comes with a healthy civic society, and nothing more,” said Club President Jeff Ballou. “We still call for that today but we are all too aware that, during the first three months of his presidency, President Trump has acted less like a leader of the free world and more like one who does not respect the role of a free, fair and independent press that is explicitly rooted in the U.S. Constitution.”

The First Amendment protects those living in the United States from the kind of abuses so widespread in China. But the words and actions of the U.S. president and others in his administration suggest that they have little respect for the freedoms it enshrines. In the last six weeks we have seen public bullying of reporters; attempts to reward compliant news outlets and punish those that are critical, threats to change libel laws in an effort to intimidate reporters, and denial of access to news sources whose salaries are paid by U.S. taxpayers.

“That is why we at the National Press Club and its Journalism Institute are encouraging our members —- both working reporters and communicators —- to remain vigilant and vocal about abuses of the public’s right to know,” said Press Freedom Fellow Kathy Kiely. “And it it why we will be working, on our own and with other journalism organizations, to highlight the importance of the First Amendment and to call out efforts to undermine it."

On April 19, the Journalism Institute and the National Press Foundation plan to host a morning symposium for beat reporters and newsroom leaders to talk about the challenges they are facing and to brainstorm about ways to meet them.

“Meanwhile, we’d like to issue a friendly challenge to Presidents Trump and Xi: Let’s see which one can best the other in encouraging more freedom of speech in his country and showing more tolerance for dissent,” Ballou said. “We’d be happy to invite the winner to accept his award — a coveted coffee mug and chance to address the public — at the National Press Club.”