While at their first official meeting in more than a year, The Guardian reported that Trump told Putin of journalists: “Get rid of them. Fake news is a great term, isn’t it? You don’t have this problem in Russia, but we do.”
“We also have. It’s the same,” Putin replied.
The two leaders are known for their open disdain for journalists.
Trump’s treatment of journalists
The U.S. president has routinely referred to journalists at the “enemy of the people.” He has also limited press access to the White House, and dismissed journalism as “fake news.”
In August 2018, United Nations human rights experts noted that Trump’s treatment of journalists violates basic values related to freedom of the press.
In a joint statement, David Kaye and Edison Lanza, special rapporteurs on freedom of expression for the United Nations and the Inter-American Commission, condemned Trump’s frequent attacks on the media and have urged the president and his administration to “promote the role of a vibrant press.”
“His attacks are strategic, designed to undermine confidence in reporting and raise doubts about verifiable facts,” the experts said.
“These attacks run counter to the country’s obligations to respect press freedom and international human rights law.”
Trump has also faced criticism over his reaction to the murder of Saudi Arabian journalist Jamal Khashoggi. Several investigations have found that Saudi Prince Mohammed bin Salman was responsible for Khashoggi’s October 2018 killing.
Most recently, Agnes Callamard, the UN special rapporteur on extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, said she’d concluded that Khashoggi was a victim of a “deliberate, premeditated execution, an extrajudicial killing for which the state of Saudi Arabia is responsible.”
However, Trump has brushed aside calls for him to act on the findings and ask for an FBI investigation.
Trump said earlier this month that the slaying of the journalist has “been heavily investigated.” He suggested that pledges by U.S. ally Saudi Arabia to spend billions of dollars buying U.S. military equipment are more important to him.
“Saudi Arabia is a big buyer of (American) product. That means something to me. It’s a big producer of jobs,” the president told NBC’s Meet the Press.
Violence faced by Russian journalists
Putin has faced this own set of criticism over the treatment of journalists in Russia, namely the violence some have faced.
According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 58 reporters have been killed in Russia between 1992 and 2019.
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One of the more famous cases involved Anna Politkovskaya, renowned for her critical coverage of the Russian military’s invasion and occupation of Chechnya. She was shot dead in her apartment building in 2006.
Earlier this month, the Raoul Wallenberg Centre for Human Rights, along with a coalition of other international groups, produced a report claiming the number of political prisoners in Russia increased from 50 to almost 300 in the last four years.
The report identifies “the individual architects of this repression,” including Putin, Alexander Bortnikov, director of the federal security service, and Aleksandr Konovalov, minister of justice.
The report also called on Canada to act on the findings, by imposing targeted financial sanctions and travel bans. Canada Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland responded by saying Canada has already imposed sanctions on an “extensive list” of Russian officials “and we are constantly reviewing … our sanctions and will continue to do that.”
Freeland said she intends to speak further on the issue of Russian press freedom with international partners.
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Trump and Putin at the G20 meeting
During the G20 meeting, Trump also seemingly joked with Putin about election meddling, after a reporter asked if he would warn Putin not to meddle in the 2020 election.
With a smirk and a finger point, Trump dryly told Putin, “Don’t meddle in the election.”
This was the first meeting between the leaders since special counsel Robert Mueller concluded that Russia extensively interfered with the 2016 campaign.
— With files from The Canadian Press, The Associated Press