Citizens of the world deserve true freedom of the press

Special to The News TribuneMay 3, 2014 

Caroline Little

JAY WESTCOTT — American Press Institute

A year ago, the actions of the Department of Justice were stunning.

In May 2013, our nation learned about the secretive seizure of the phone records of Associated Press journalists. We soon learned that the intrusive monitoring was not isolated as Fox News James Rosen had been labeled a “possible co-conspirator” and his personal email and cell phone was monitored. The courts attempted to force New York Times reporter James Risen to disclose his confidential sources.

The chilling effect on newsrooms across the country set in, and reporters began labeling the Obama administration as the “most secretive” administration they had yet to cover.

It was a very sobering time for the newspaper industry and it is a battle we must fight each and every day. It is why on Saturday, May 3, we commemorate World Press Freedom Day. We recognize that the media directly contributes to the well-being of every citizen and country.

Last July, Egypt’s authorities began targeting and arbitrarily persecuting local and foreign media members. Four Al-Jazeera reporters have been imprisoned since December for no clear crime.

In October, Queen Elizabeth signed a Royal Charter enabling government regulators to influence editorial content across media in England.

In the first three months of 2014, Russia launched a strategic assault on the last independent news station, and in March escalated its already strict censorship laws to target news sites.

Just weeks ago, Syria was named the most dangerous country for journalists, with a record of seven journalists murdered in 2013 and a rising number of targeted killings and abductions in the midst of the war.

Additionally, the Inter American Press Association passed a resolution – one we have added our voice to – condemning the actions in Venezuela where more than 100 journalists been arrested, threatened, or the victims of violence

In totality, the assault on global press freedom is frightening. From war zones and struggling governments to traditionally stable democracies such as our own, leaders have demonstrated that they do not prioritize the public’s right to know.

This is wrong. A free press gives the people power.

It allows journalists to go behind-the-scenes of governments, businesses, institutions and even prominent leaders, exposing corruption and checking their power when necessary. It gives the public the responsibility to understand what is going on and the power to shape their community and country accordingly.

This outright assault on media protections must stop. It directly affects the reporters and sources who risk careers and even lives for the truth. It also affects every citizen of every country where truth is threatened and they are stripped of the power and responsibility to fight for what they believe in.

A strong country is the one is built on empowered, engaged citizens.

It has now been a year since Americans first learned of the AP phone records. Since then, we have fallen from 46th place on the Reporters Without Borders press freedom index.

Caroline Little is president and CEO of the Newspaper Association of America.

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