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Journalism and the powerful

'Fake news? The new administration under Donald Trump has presented one of the toughest challenges for journalists in US history

Through modern telecommunication that has practically engulfed the globe, turning the airwaves into a massive jungle of so much information that truth is often buried in a rolling tidal wave of confusion, facts are blurred to a point where those with little regard for truth and accuracy can mislead. This creates an atmosphere of chaos where honesty and transparency are mere words.

When this happens, the only thing left is the journalist, who must relentlessly use the skills of their profession to weed out the truth, no matter how well it is concealed.

A baffled world is watching the American scene, where the new administration under Donald Trump has presented one of the toughest challenges for journalists in that nation’s history. Hardly a day goes by without something tweeted by the President that has not crumbled under the microscope of highly skilled journalists, who must fact-check statements from all government officials for accuracy to inform at the highest standards.

Everyone knows there are mistakes at times, but there is a difference between those and statements by the powerful that are found to be false — and when the administration is pressed, the media are accused of misleading the public and producing fake news. It is a testing time for all journalists. Normally, there would be little concern about how America chooses to run its affairs, politically or domestically. But this is the country with the most powerful military force on the planet, and a nuclear capacity that should it ever be unleased could have a devastating effect on millions globally.

With an escalating war of words between Trump and Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, who has vowed to attack the United States, the international climate is more than troublesome.

North Korea, unlike America or other democratic countries, has no free media to question what the communist country’s leader says or does. It is a country where the mere hint of dissent against government policy could mean a summary expulsion into oblivion.

Kim commands a nuclear power with the increasing ability to develop a long-range missile capable of striking the US. South Korea, which has existed in the shadow of North Korea for years, is supported by the Americans and Nato forces.

Most military experts know the human cost of any nuclear encounter would be a catastrophe for both sides. This is why many are disturbed to hear Trump throw cold water on attempts to seek a solution through negotiation. He even publicly stated that his Secretary of Defence, Rex Tillerson, was wasting his time trying to hold talks with North Korea.

Journalists were busy trying to follow what seemed conflicting viewpoints within the administration on the North Korean issue. With the White House having had a series of firings during one of the most controversial first nine months of any administration, journalists endeavouring to keep abreast of developments came under fire themselves for asking questions.

Reporters knew there was something wrong when word emerged that Tillerson, during a meeting at the Pentagon in July, had referred to the President as “a moron”.

Journalists knew this disclosure was not anything Trump would be happy about and rumours of another possible firing spread quickly. However, Tillerson said at a press conference that the President had his full support, although there was no word of denial over use of that word. Journalists were left to deal with statements from the powerful that left questions without answers.

Far more important than who said what about whom are many issues hanging over the White House, including an investigation into possible collusion between Russia and the Trump campaign before the presidential election.

The powerful will always be a challenge for the free press, especially when truth is seen as an obstacle. It is no secret that there are internal conflicts within the White House and constant reports indicate that some members of the inner cabinet are worried about the President, who feels he is the only one with answers to problems, the most significant of which is North Korea.

Some observers feel the Republican Party is partly responsible for somehow showing a reluctance to challenge the President on sensitive issues. Many Americans feel helpless in a climate that has a dictatorial tone that, if unchecked, could lead to a weakened nation with the world wondering what will happen next.