The U.N. rights chief said on Monday that U.S. President Donald Trump bears “a heavy responsibility” for how the media is portrayed and that his remarks could have a knock-on effect that could hurt journalists in other countries.
U.S. newspapers across the country ran editorials last Thursday defending freedom of the press in response to President Donald Trump calling some media organizations enemies of the American people.
“To label the press in this way is very worrisome,” U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights Zeid Ra’ad al-Hussein said in a wide-ranging interview days before his four-year term ends.
“The President should be aware that a heavy responsibility lies on his shoulders when it comes to the way in which the media is being portrayed,” Zeid said, speaking to Reuters, Associated Press and Agence France Presse in his Geneva office.
“Because it also has a demonstration effect, other leaders in authoritarian settings will do same thing. We’ve seen now how they mimic President Trump and so what could already be a difficult situation in other countries becomes even more difficult for the press to operate and for journalists to uncover stories and for lawyers to do their work and for human rights defenders to do their work,” he added.
Trump’s comments reflect a view held by many conservatives that many media outlets distort, make up or omit facts because of a bias against them. The Republican president has said he supports the principle of press freedom, but has described much of what the media publishes as “fake news”.
Zeid has been outspoken about human rights violations, earning rebukes from the United States and its ally Israel, as well as China, Myanmar, Hungary, Syria, and his native Jordan.
On Monday, he criticized world powers in the U.N. Security Council - singling out the United States, Russia and China - for casting vetoes and preventing resolution of crises or their being referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC).
“And I think that has to change, in the end the organization can collapse at great cost to the international community and to international peace and security,” Zeid warned.
“The threats to the system altogether are very real.”
On China, he called for access to the far western region of Xinjiang following reports by activists and independent U.N. rights monitors this month about mass detention of Muslim Uighurs.
China has rejected allegations raised by the U.N. panel that 1 million Uighurs may be held in internment camps in the restive region, but said that some people underwent re-education after being deceived by extremists.
“As with all countries, the request is let us in or else we will assume the absolute worst,” Zeid told Reuters.
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; Editing by Alison Williams and Andrew Heavens