Last year at this time, I wrote about both the promise of and the peril to a free press. Throughout the Middle East and North Africa journalists, bloggers, filmmakers, and pundits were chronicling the protests sweeping across the region, while citizens armed with nothing but cell phones risked their lives to upload the truth by text, tweet, and pixel.
It was a powerful reminder of the role – and the responsibility — that the media has in keeping societies vibrant, energetic, and healthy. In recognition of that calling and the events of last year, one theme of this year’s World Press Freedom Day, hosted by UNESCO in Tunis, is “The Power to Transform Societies.” We just have to look back over 2011 to see how much truth lies within that slogan.
Unfortunately, threats against journalists continue to rise. As of last December, the Committee to Protect Journalists counted 179 reporters in jail around the world. And journalists continue to be threatened, attacked, “disappeared,” or murdered for trying to report the news.
In reporting the news, they were exercising a fundamental freedom enshrined in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states: “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.”
Yet too many governments attempt to censor the media, directly or indirectly. Too many investigative journalists are being silenced, many for exposing corruption at local, state, or national government levels. Too many attacks and murders of journalists go unpunished.
As President Obama said in his proclamation this year, when journalists are threatened, attacked, jailed, or disappeared, other journalists self-censor. They stop reporting stories. They tone down stories. They omit details. Sources stop helping them. Their editors hesitate to print stories. Fear replaces truth. And all of our societies suffer.
At last year’s World Press Freedom Day, Secretary Clinton remarked that “by exposing abuses of power, challenging assumptions, and providing constructive outlets for new ideas and for dissent, journalists safeguard our freedoms. When a free media is in jeopardy, all other human rights are threatened. So in that spirit, let us continue to champion those who stand for media freedom – and let us continue to expose those who deny it.”
Well said. So true. Important to remember.