HELSINKI, Finland — A Finnish newspaper is welcoming Donald Trump and Vladimir Putin to Helsinki with pointed messages about the free press.
The messages, which appear on 300 billboards, include: “Mr. President, Welcome to the land of free press” and “Trump calls media enemy of the people.”
As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Helsinki, we @hsfi want to remind them of the importance of free press. 300 billboards on the routes from the airport to the summit are filled with news headlines regarding presidents’ attitude towards the pressfreedom. #HELSINKI2018 pic.twitter.com/KmYJtLyeNE
— Kaius Niemi (@KaiusNiemi) July 15, 2018
The US and Russian Presidents are meeting for talks in the Finnish capital Monday.
“As we welcome the presidents to the summit in Helsinki, we @hsfi want to remind them of the importance of free press. 300 billboards on the routes from the airport to the summit are filled with news headlines regarding presidents’ attitude towards the press freedom,” the senior editor-in-chief of the newspaper Helsingin Sanomat explained on Twitter.
US President Trump has frequently lambasted the press for what he calls “fake news” and has described it as “the enemy of the people.”
Free press monitors have taken notice. Press freedom group Reporters Without Borders (known by its French acronym RSF) dropped the United States down two places to 45 in its 2018 World Press Freedom Index rankings, saying Trump’s presidency “has fostered further decline in journalists’ right to report.”
“He has declared the press an ‘enemy of the American people’ in a series of verbal attacks toward journalists, attempted to block White House access to multiple media outlets, and routinely uses the term ‘fake news’ in retaliation for critical reporting,” RSF says.
“The violent anti-press rhetoric from the highest level of the US government has been coupled with an increase in the number of press freedom violations at the local level as journalists run the risk of arrest for covering protests or simply attempting to ask public officials questions.”
Russia, for its part, comes in at 148 on the index.
“Between draconian laws and website blocking, the pressure on independent media has grown steadily since Vladimir Putin’s return to the Kremlin in 2012. Leading independent news outlets have either been brought under control or throttled out of existence,” RSF says.
By contrast, Finland is ranked fourth, behind Norway, Sweden and the Netherlands.
Speaking to Jake Tapper in Helsinki about the billboards, CNN’s Christiane Amanpour said the issue of press freedom was “about truth and lies and it’s about democracy and dictatorship.”
“Obviously [with] President Putin, you know there are scores of journalists in jail, there are political assassinations of opponents and journalists — I mean, it’s a whole different level,” she said.
She added that given the American laws specifically protecting the freedom of the press, “it’s a very troubling thing obviously to see […] a constitutionally-guaranteed free and safe press to be under attack by their own leader.”