Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive, and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers. – from Article 19 of the United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
Being a member of the press used to mean something. It still does to me as this profession is something I see as being very important, as well as being a responsibility that I take seriously.
Without a free press the rule of law and basic human rights can be ignored and stable democracies couldn’t function in the way we all want them to do. We would not have real social, political and economic development in our societies. The rights of workers could be easily ignored, citizens jailed without being charged and other human rights violated without an outcry, politicians could pass draconian laws and line their pockets much like dictators we hear about in Third World countries. Businesses could set prices, pollute and generally ensure that profit is the only god they have to adhere to. That’s only the tip of the iceberg.
It is for this very reason that the press is often under attack. Accountability is something not many people or corporations want to have to deal with. Blaming the messenger is easier than dealing with or fixing the problem.
Our world is getting smaller in terms of availability and speed of information, but we tend to become immune to the vast amount of information constantly competing for our attention.
It is no wonder that people and corporations take advantage of this and put the spin doctors to work. And part of their work is to discredit the media. To be fair, the fourth estate, as we are called, is not perfect. Some journalists have made up things, haven’t researched things fully or have a definite bias (i.e., Fox News) and have been part of or made the story happen (CIA or KGB representing themselves as journalist) and this has made people lose respect and confidence in our profession.
Still, the majority of us believe in what we are doing in spite of the resulting dangers. Last week, CBS “60 Minutes” correspondent Lara Logan ended up in a hospital, recovering from a sustained brutal beating and sexual assault. She was in Egypt the day that Hosni Mubarak stepped down as president.
Across the world, 850 journalists have been killed since 1992 and there are currently 145 known cases of them in jail, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Even the Nation has experienced this as one of our staff was detained here in Quebec while working on a story, even though police knew he was a journalist. We have also been threatened and attempts have been made to intimidate us at times in the past.
Nevertheless, like most people who work in journalism, we believe in the job we do. We will continue to do it to the best of our abilities while accepting the criticism that sometimes comes our way. We will never please everyone but that is not part of our job criteria.
We accept the risks but we do not and cannot accept state imposed controls and restrictions on free press. Nor should our society accept the levels of violence targeted to those of us trying to uphold the principles of a free press.