Standing up for a free press
by Andrea W. Doray
Journalists are in mortal danger and that’s not fake news.
From the continuous assault on the news media as an “enemy of the people” from the president of the United States, to the prisons of Turkey where more journalists are jailed than in any other country in the world, the very concept of a free press is facing its most serious threats.
I live in the U.S. state of Colorado, and when I was younger and out to change the world, I participated in a yearlong leadership program. We explored the foundations of American society, visiting hospitals, jails, soup kitchens, and homeless shelters. Once a month, we spent a whole day exploring a topic germane to running a city.
On the day dedicated to the workings of government, my colleagues and I met with a panel of officials where the dialogue inevitably came around to a familiar lament: “Why does the media only publish bad news?”
The elected and appointed officials in attendance, as well as those in business and economic development, were concerned that “bad” press was keeping companies from relocating in Colorado, deterring skilled workers, and actually contributing to job loss. So, these leaders mused, maybe the media ought to report only the good stuff.
What they were saying about negative publicity was probably true: Colorado was on a rough economic ride at the time, and I agreed that the continual news about high numbers of home foreclosures and rising jobless rates wasn’t uplifting. It was the proposed solution to this perceived problem that jolted me out of my seat to address the panel and my colleagues, in genuine alarm at the prospect of limiting – in any way – the freedom of the press.
Note: I wasn’t talking then about information outside the bounds of accurate reporting and good taste, and I’m not talking about it now. I’m not naïve … shock jocks, fringe networks with fanatical followers, and the ever-present sound bites make it more difficult than ever for the public to find and discern the truth.
Add to this the current climate of “alternative facts,” misleading statements, and outright lies that are purveyed not only by the U.S. administration and Congress, but also by actual and would-be dictatorial states around the world, and we have a situation of dire peril.
On that day years ago, I was fiercely defending a freedom that too few nations enjoy, a freedom that we’ve seen violently suppressed in despotic states and that I’ve personally witnessed censored in totalitarian nations – an essential freedom that continually guarantees citizens in democratic societies access to the truth.
In addition to the heart-thumping nerve it took for me to stand up and address the assembly in that hall, the only real detail I remember was the number of Imelda’s shoes – a big story at the time that ultimately became iconic for the excesses of the Marcos regime in the Philippines.
The high point of that day was my explanation that, because of a free and independent press, we in commissioners’ chambers in a city in Colorado knew more about what was happening halfway around the world than the people who lived there.
Then I sat down. I believe there was applause.
Today, I’m still out to change the world. I’m still standing up for freedom of the press, and I still get alarmed when someone proposes we should “do something” about the media.
I understand that all professions and all professionals have their foibles, their falsities, and even their outright failures, but no one – no one – has the right to tell the media what news they ought to report or how they should report it.
I stood up for freedom of the press that day, and I stand up for a free press today. Will you stand up with me? I think I hear applause.
And that’s how I see it, from my little corner of the world…
P.S. For a look at the future of journalism, especially peace journalism, take a look at the new student edition of The Peace Correspondent here.
Andrea W. Doray is an award-winning journalist, author, poet, and essayist in Denver, CO, and is occasionally a columnist for The Denver Post through their Colorado Voices panel. Her weekly opinion column, Alchemy, which appears in Colorado Community Media newspapers, has received a first-place award from the Colorado Press Association. Learn more about Andrea and her work here.
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