Washington, DC – Donald Trump has been awarded a tongue-in-cheek prize for “undermining global press freedom” by a journalism advocacy group, after the US president’s first year in office was dominated by personal attacks on media outlets and reporters.
Trump topped the list of world leaders accused by the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ) of attempting to silence critics and censor citizens.
Sherif Mansour, CPJ’s Middle East and North Africa programme director, said Trump was awarded the prize for “overall achievement” because of the effect he had “locally and internationally [on] the cause of press freedom”.
“This is the president of the United States and what he says matters,” Mansour told Al Jazeera.
The ironic awards were handed out this week to various heads of state who have “gone out of their way to attack the press and undermine the norms that support freedom of the media”, the group said.
The list also included Russian President Vladimir Putin and Turkey’s Recep Tayyip Erdogan.
Over the past year, the Trump administration has accused media outlets of spreading “fake news”, an epithet that has been since adopted by leaders in countries across the world.
Trump was also named runner-up in the “most thin-skinned” category, losing to Erdogan.
The US president’s response to criticism in the media has been frequent, ranging from issuing threats to sue outlets or having their broadcast licenses revoked, to making suggestions that US libel laws be changed to make it easier to go after news organisations.
Since 2015, when he first declared his presidential candidacy, Trump has posted about 1,000 tweets that criticise or disparage the press, according to a tally by the Columbia Journalism Review.
Using Twitter as his social media tool of choice, Trump has regularly insulted media outlets, calling them “garbage”, “sad” or “failing”.
He has also called for various journalists to be fired and for certain media organisations to be boycotted.
On the campaign trail, Trump mocked a New York Times reporter, Serge Kovaleski, who has arthrogryposis, a congenital condition which affects the functioning of the joints.
Trump’s latest attack has focused on Michael Wolff, author of the new White House tell-all book, Fire and Fury. Trump’s lawyers had attempted to block its publication while a spokeswoman for the president said the book was full of “ridiculous lies”.
Meanwhile, the number of imprisoned journalists reached a record high last year, with 262 journalists behind bars worldwide at the end of 2017, CPJ reported.
The group said Russia and China hold the tightest grip on their respective media.
Using censorship and internet controls, as well as harassment and imprisonment, Beijing has restrained the work of its journalists. Under Putin, Russian independent media has slowly dissipated as journalists were either killed, jailed or harassed, according to CPJ.
This week, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was named runner-up for CPJ’s “most outrageous use of terror laws against the press” award. At least 20 journalists were imprisoned in Egypt at the end of last year, the group said.
The de facto leader of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi, won the prize for the “biggest backslider in press freedom” for security officials’ harassment of journalists trying to report on the crisis affecting the majority-Muslim Rohingya ethnic group.
The UN has termed the attacks against the minority “a textbook example of ethnic cleansing”.