Saturday, May 2, 2009

Celebrating a free press

Tomorrow, May 3, is World Press Freedom Day, designed to draw attention to those who are out reporting the news and to those who have been arrested or killed in the process.

These days, many (most?) Americans have a cynical view of the press and see the media as an untrustworthy establishment. Who can blame them? Given the amount of material available now on the Internet and cable news, often conflicting, and the ever-invading, ever-louder commentary that permeates both, and radio as well, it's not hard to conclude why people would feel that way. We've basically gone from a time when media reported the news of the day via radio, nightly news or newspapers to a time when anyone can "report" anything at anytime through any bias they may have. Cable news channels don't show the news at night; they show commentary. Radio might give brief news accounts, but most talk radio is opinion-based. The days of Walter Cronkite are over. And if you believe what you hear, newspapers are on their deathbeds -- and no one seems to even care about that.

Even so, take a minute to think about what our country would be like without freedom of the press. (While you're at it, try to picture what news here would look like without newspapers. We think it's bad now? Just wait.) There are many people around the globe who don't have access to uncensored or non-state-sponsored news, where newspapers and TV channels are shut down, or aren't allowed to exist in the first place. Behind our free press we have thousands of journalists who daily put themselves in dangerous situations to bring the news to the public. Could be in a war zone, could be at a crime scene, could even be trying to shed light on scandal or corruption. Journalists are arrested or killed all over the world. The journalists out there actually doing the reporting might get a thank-you every now and again, but more often than not are lumped in with "the media" that everyone seems to disdain these days. These are real people behind these stories, people who believe in getting the news, people who believe in the freedom of the press, and who are driven to get to the bottom of the story.

Last year, 70 journalists were killed. 125 were in prison. 673 were arrested. Since World Press Freedom Day started in 1993, 692 journalists have been killed. I would bet most people can't even name one of them, yet everyone knows who Perez Hilton is.

More information:

To borrow from Obama borrowing from Thomas Jefferson ...

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter."

Happy World Press Freedom Day.

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