“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.” Thomas Jefferson
It was an interesting week for press freedom. In Paris, 12 people at the satirical newspaper Charlie Hebdo were murdered in a terrorist attack by radical Muslims. The terrorists struck during the daily staff meeting and took the lives of the newspaper’s editor, four cartoonists, an economist, a columnist, the receptionists, security guards and a visitor.
The publication is stridently irreverent and often pokes fun at anyone including Islamic leaders. Upon leaving the scene the terrorists reportedly shouted, ‘We have avenged the Prophet Muhammad. We have killed Charlie Hebdo!” The motive was clear: silence the media.
Meanwhile, less than 50 miles from Washington, D.C., Kirby Delauter, a local politician in Frederick, Maryland threatened reporter Bethany Rodgers with a lawsuit if she used his name in her newspaper without authorization. In a Facebook exchange, Councilman Delauter accused Rodgers of writing a “hit piece.” He concluded by writing, “Use my name again unauthorized and you’ll be paying for an Attorney. Your rights stop where mine start.” Mr. Delauter’s motive was clear: silence the media.
The Charlie Hebdo massacre was tragic and part of a global threat while the Delauter situation was stupid and comical. Let’s be clear, there is no comparison between the two scenarios — except for one: the attempt to silence the media. It is a reminder that even here in the United States, the “land of the free,” that press freedom is occasionally seen as a nuisance and often challenged.
Press freedom is the basis of Democracy. We cannot have one without the other. The expression of facts, ideas, and opinions are the ingredients of a free people. Local reporters such as Bethany Rodgers of the Frederick News-Post play an especially important role. They are the people who are keeping local government in check. They are the ones taking the time to sit through boring county council meetings when no one else is looking. They churn through mountains of legal filings and keep a check upon what is happening at the courthouse. The service that journalists provide are as important as the leaders we elect.
They are also endangered. As media budgets plummet, the idea of being a journalist has become less and less appealing to the younger generation. It’s hard work, long hours and little pay. Journalists are also increasingly in the line of fire. The Committee to Protect Journalists reports that 1,109 journalists have been murdered since 1992. These journalists put their lives on the line for our democracy.
We won’t always agree with what is being reported in the media. Reporters make mistakes, they get the facts wrong, they sometimes intentionally embellish and sometimes they flat out lie. It’s the same as with any industry, its not perfect. However, overall, the media strive to do what is right and protect democracies. All of us living in democracies around the world need to do our part to support the media and let freedom ring.
Ramsey Poston is president of Tuckahoe Strategies, a strategic communications firm based on the Eastern Shore.