The President of the Czech Republic versus journalists

Sean W. Cooper, Staff Writer

Editor’s Note: Sean W. Cooper is a sophomore at UNCW majoring in Communication Studies. He is a staff writer for The Seahawk. The opinions expressed in the article are solely those of the author. Sean W. Cooper may be found on Twitter @SWWCoop. All suggestions and inquiries may be sent via email to [email protected]

In a post-Cold War era, we shouldn’t have to be admitting that journalism is under attack by world leaders. We see this at home with President Trump labeling news outlets like CNN as “fake news” and banning them from press conferences for their perceived bias. However, the situation seems a bit worse abroad.

On Friday, October 20, Milos Zeman, President of the Czech Republic, waved a replica AK-47 at a press conference, bearing the words “for journalists.” As a journalist, a citizen of the free world and a human being, hearing this made me laugh — not at the joke itself, but at the sheer ignorance of it.

This is an offense twofold.  First there’s the fact that the leader of a developed country actually brandished a fake gun at a press conference. It’s one of the beauties of being a high-ranking government official and not a high-ranking businessperson: evidently, you can be as asinine and unprofessional as you want, and as long as it’s legal you’ll still have your job when you wake up the next morning.

The next offense is the fact that “for journalists” were printed on the replica. It is fine for a political figure to feel that he is being treated unfairly by the media; however, it is wrong to try and fight back. We are at the cornerstone of what makes us a democracy, and the same goes with other countries. It is a journalist’s job to keep the public informed, and yes, some journalism may be biased, but it is rarely untruthful. It is the public’s job to then choose which sources they wish to frequent and to interpret what they hear as they see fit.

What is dangerous about the actions of not only Zeman but also his American counterpart Trump, is that they are feeding on our trust of them and breeding a massive distrust of the media. We see how Trump’s rise helped to accentuate this substantially. According to Pew Research Center, 74 percent of Republicans in 2016 agreed that “media criticism of political leaders keeps them from doing things they shouldn’t.”  By 2017, that figure had dropped to 42 percent.

This, coupled with other factors such as the decentralization of the mainstream media with the rise of social media, is what is slowly murdering journalism. Just forty years ago, Bob Woodward and Carl Bernstein’s revelation of the Watergate scandal was a boon for journalism as perceived in the public eye. Had that same scandal happened in 2017, this news would be written off by many as unfair coverage.

The point is that we must be cautious about who we trust for information. I’m not saying we should always believe everything the media has to say; rather, I am advising that we do not write them off simply because a political leader has attempted to dictate what is truth and what is not. With every person who puts all of his or her faith into the words of a single governing figure, we draw further from democracy and closer to tyranny.