These six members of the media from Brazil, India, Nicaragua, Tanzania and Pakistan exemplify the courage it takes to engage in free expression of which officials disapprove, including in many countries usually thought of as democratic. Sadly, their jobs are made harder by a lack of consistent support from the world’s strongest democracy, the United States. To the contrary, the Trump administration radiates sympathy for some of the governments that harass them. In Brazil or India, whose elected leaders are right-wing populists admired by, and admiring of, Mr. Trump, common tools of intimidation include smear campaigns on social media, lawsuits and doxxing — as we were told by Patrícia Campos Mello, a reporter and columnist at Brazil’s daily Folha de S. Paulo, targeted for exposing manipulations of WhatsApp messaging by supporters of then-presidential candidate Jair Bolsonaro, and by Neha Dixit, a freelance investigative journalist in India facing legal and physical threats for reporting on alleged murders and abductions by police and right-wing nationalist groups. In Tanzania, Maxence Melo Mubyazi, co-founder and managing director of JamiiForums, an online discussion site and breaking-news source, has been hounded with charges of cybercrime, travel restrictions and registration fees.
Both the Trump administration and Congress have put pressure on President Daniel Ortega’s government, demonstrating the validity of what Zaffar Abbas, editor of Pakistan’s Dawn newspaper, told us: “International statements do matter.” To the Trump administration’s credit, it granted the CPJ honorees a meeting with Vice President Pence. Of course, to have meaning, expressions of solidarity must not be aimed selectively at left-wing governments such as Mr. Ortega’s. And there is no substitute for a clear message from the president himself.
Alas, too often he and the world’s would-be authoritarians speak the same language. As Mr. Abbas, recipient of a special CPJ award named for the late U.S. journalist Gwen Ifill, for his defiance of both the Pakistani military and Islamist terrorist groups, warned, “when journalism is derided as fake news in the U.S., the authoritarian mind-set in developing democracies kicks in: ‘If the White House can brand journalism as fake news, we can go a step further to destroy journalism.’ ”