The media today: Disney buys 21st Century Fox & The worst year on record for press freedom

BREAKING THIS MORNING: Hm, as Disney has reached a deal to purchase most of the assets of 21st Century Fox for $52.4 billion. Rupert Murdoch will retain control of Fox Broadcasting network and stations, Fox News Channel, and Fox Sports channels, and Disney will get the Fox movie and TV studios and cable channels including FX. Disney CEO Bob Iger will push back his planned retirement and remain as Chairman and CEO of The Walt Disney Company through 2021.

ICYMI: NY journalist handcuffed to railing over his head

The move signals an aggressive attempt by Disney to push back against the rise of tech giants, though the deal must still be approved by regulators who recently showed a willingness to block major media mergers. Disney is reportedly planning its own streaming service to compete with Netflix, and the deal will give its library even more heft. The Financial Times was first to report an agreement was imminent.


Grim news on press freedom: The Committee to Protect Journalists is out with its annual report on press freedom around the globe. It makes for depressing reading. “For the second year in a row, the number of journalists imprisoned for their work hit a historical high, as the U.S. and other Western powers failed to pressure the world’s worst jailers—Turkey, China, and Egypt—into improving the bleak climate for press freedom,” CPJ Editorial Director Elana Beiser writes.

Journalists under arrest in Turkey, China, and Egypt account for more than half of the 262 journalists behind bars around the world for reasons related to their work. CPJ singles out Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan and Chinese President Xi Jinping for their continued, excessive crackdowns on journalists, but Western leaders also come in for criticism. “Far from isolating repressive countries for their authoritarian behavior, the United States, in particular, has cozied up to strongmen,” Beiser writes.

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ICYMI: The FCC will make an important decision Thursday night

The CPJ report comes amid growing concern as authoritarian leaders around the world emulate President Trump’s embrace of “fake news” attacks on the press. The New York Times’s Steven Erlanger cites recent examples of official condemnation of journalists that echo Trump’s language in Syria, Myanmar, Russia, and several other countries. “Around the world, authoritarians, populists and other political leaders have seized on the phrase ‘fake news’—and the legitimacy conferred upon it by an American president—as a tool for attacking their critics and, in some cases, deliberately undermining the institutions of democracy,” Erlanger writes.

Of course, press freedom violations existed long before Trump embraced the “fake news” mantra, and governments in many places around the world crack down on journalism regardless of who is in the White House. But, as CPJ’s Beiser writes, when the leader of the world’s most powerful advocate for press freedoms attacks the media and fails to pressure the worst offenders, his actions serve to “reinforce the framework of accusations and legal charges that allow such leaders to preside over the jailing of journalists.”

Below, more on press freedom at home and around the world.

  • ‘Blatant attack’: Two Reuters journalists, Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, were arrested this week in Myanmar, where the government has cracked down on reporting on the Rohingya Muslim minority. “We are outraged by this blatant attack on press freedom. We call for authorities to release them immediately,” Reuters Editor in Chief Stephen J. Adler said.
  • Mapping the issue: CPJ’s interactive map lists every journalist who is imprisoned around the world.
  • Flashback: More than a year ago, CJR columnist and CPJ Executive Director Joel Simon warned that Trump’s attacks on journalism could have worldwide press freedom consequences. 


Other notable stories

  • Alabama election postmortem from The Washington Post’s Margaret Sullivan: “Roy Moore thought attacking the press could save his campaign. Voters opted for the truth.”
  • Variety’s Daniel Holloway reports that PBS has suspended distribution of Tavis Smiley’s talk show following an investigation into allegations of sexual misconduct and workplace harassment against Smiley.
  • For CJR, Max Zahn reports on public universities restricting journalists’ access to campuses and students. “The dispute sits at the convergence of two hot button political issues: the anti-media rhetoric of President Donald Trump and efforts to restrict speech on college campuses,” Zahn writes.
  • Salma Hayek opens up about her experiences with Harvey Weinstein in a powerful New York Times op-ed. After initially choosing to stay quiet about her mistreatment, Hayek writes, “I am inspired by those who had the courage to speak out.”
  • Variety’s cover features New York Times’s Jodi Kantor and Megan Twohey, the reporters who broke the Harvey Weinstein story and kicked off an industry-wide reckoning.

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Pete Vernon is a CJR staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @ByPeteVernon.