Tuesday, August 26, 2014
“What Freedom of the Press Means To Me”
by Tyler Corson
Freedom of the press is vitally important to any civilized society. The free flow of information from the media is critical to shaping the opinions and beliefs of individual citizens. Those opinions inspire debate, which can ultimately influence both the actions and the form of our government. Press freedom is directly connected to the freedom of expression that is guaranteed to all American citizens. Countries like North Korea and Eritrea, where the press is heavily restricted, usually have strict government controls in other facets of society as well. Freedom of the press in a country can lead to government transparency and accountability, and can expose tyranny and corruption. Armed with accurate, unbiased information from the media, citizens can decide to protest, to change political parties, to vote a certain way, to donate money to a cause, or to support the status quo. A free and vibrant press is a critical part of maintaining a democratic society.
Journalists, authors and others who are willing to report outside of a society’s comfort zone make freedom of the press meaningful. Competing media outlets ensure that there are multiple, verifiable accounts of events that can shape debate from all sides. The world is shrinking and we are all globally interconnected. We need reporting from journalists working domestically and internationally to inform our opinions and guide our actions. Good journalists report the facts. They are on site to report firsthand accounts of action. They take risks, often of life and limb. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists’ website, 1,053 journalists have been killed since 1992: 703 murdered, 209 killed in combat/crossfire and 141 on dangerous assignments. Large percentages of these journalists were covering politics, corruption and war, subjects vital to the public interests in any society. Clearly, freedom of press does not come free.
While America has a proud tradition of press freedom, American journalists have been and still are at risk while reporting at home and abroad. Irving Carson of the New York Tribune was the first journalist killed (by a cannonball) in the U.S. Civil War. Howard Guilford, editor of the Saturday Press, was gunned down in 1932 after his paper covered organized crime in Minneapolis, Minnesota. He and publishing partner Jay Near had won the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark press freedom decision Near v. Minnesota. In 2002, Daniel Pearl of the Wall Street Journal was kidnapped and beheaded by al-Qaeda members in Pakistan. These are only a few of the intrepid members of the media who have sacrificed their lives while covering “the tough story.”
As Americans, we owe it to our press corps to continue defending freedom of press rights. In its 2013 World Press Freedom Index, Reporters without Borders ranked the United States 32nd of 179 countries. We must continue to strive to top this list and support the intrepid and hard-working members of the media who, by exercising their freedom of press rights, are helping ensure freedom of expression rights for an entire nation.