A free press and the dangers journalists face

Posted on January 9, 2012

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“Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”
Thomas Jefferson

The freedom of a country depends on the freedom of information in that country. With censorship and secrets, the people lose the checks and balances needed to maintain a government of the people, for the people and by the people. While reporters in the U.S. have relished in the freedoms provided to them over the last 2.5 centuries (and longer), other parts of the world do not have it so easy.

In South Sudan, which has recently found independence from Northern Sudan, reporters are urged to not report about the military, or any subject that might seem like it was not “applicable,” according to The New York Times:

“At the dialogue forum for the media and security services, both sides were called on to get along with each other. But the event didn’t seem to ease tensions. A spokesman for the Sudan People’s Liberation Army, or S.P.L.A. as the new country’s army is more popularly known, told reporters what they could cover and what would be risky for them — a list that included covering the army, for example. Philip Chol, a spokesman for military intelligence, said: “If you’re a responsible journalist, you will do something that is applicable to the country.” — Benno Mulcher, “In a fledgling country, perils for the press,” The New York Times, Jan. 8, 2012

Many journalists have faced peril in their countries to cover the news. In 2011, 86 journalists were killed. Over half of them were killed because of something that directly related to their work. The top four beats covered by those killed were politics, crime, corruption and war.

February 1 marks the 10 year anniversary of the beheading of Daniel Pearl. Pearl was abducted while researching a story in Pakistan about Al Qaeda . He was beheaded, his body was cut into pieces, and he wasn’t found until May. His abductors made a tape and released it, showing Pearl’s decapitation. They labeled him a “spy journalist.”

So why do they do it? Why do journalists continue to go into war zones, cover genocide in faraway countries, and get in the path of terror groups? Well, I can only give my answer. Freedom is that important. Citizens have a right to know what is going on in their country. They have a right to know how they are being ruled.

Someone told me once that “what I didn’t know wouldn’t hurt me.” That gives someone else the power to run my life, to control what I do and do not know about the world around me. Can you imagine what life would be like if everyone thought that way?

Would the U.S. be the same right now without the discovery of Watergate or the releasing of the Pentagon Papers?

The release of documents from Wikileaks fueled uprisings throughout the Middle East. People want the information. And, they should be allowed to have it. There is no reason for censorship if governments have nothing to hide. Censorship of the press means that people are basically told what to think and how to feel about what goes on around them. I don’t know about you, but I don’t feel like being a soulless automaton — a robot.

I, as a journalist, have a right to report about the goings on in the world. You, as a citizen, have the right to read and be informed about the goings on in the world.  It is a relationship that I wouldn’t change for anything.

So what do you think? Do you believe that a free press is important to America as a society? Do you think that without a free press, the country would remain the same?

“The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure.”

Thomas Jefferson

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