War on Journalism

K'reisa Cox

Free press is a dying concept


Jamal Khashoggi is a name that evokes instant recognition.

Tragically, he is less recognized as a voice that spoke truth to power, but is now more known as a voice that was brutally silenced by a regime bent on maintaining their iron-grip on power.

This is not as unfamiliar of a story as it should be, as political assassination is a realistic consequence of the work of journalists.

There have already been 45 motive confirmed killings of journalists in 2018, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. Twenty-eight of these killings were expressly targeted murders, a 36 percent increase from last year.

What fuels these killings? What kind of global society would produce governments and other institutions that can somehow reason that this kind of violating of public, legal and human rights is acceptable?

Often the first sign of a weakening democracy comes from limitation of the freedom of the press.

When governments become wary of criticism, it reveals that their purpose has moved away from representing the people and towards maintaining control over them.

In 2017, 71 countries experienced net declines in in political rights and civil liberties, as compared to only 35 countries who experienced gains, as reported by the Freedom of the World Report 2018.

This continues a 12 year-long trend of global decline in personal and civil liberties.

These declines do not just stem from Middle Eastern or African countries, regions of the globe where many countries have spent decades steeped in dominant authoritarianism, but from European countries as well.

Slovakia and Malta have fallen 10 and 18 places respectively on their press freedom rankings due to two significant assassinations of prominent, controversial journalists that took place in each country.

This move away from accountable democracy ought to deeply disturb the hearts and minds of all who value their freedom.

Journalism is our strongest force of civil liberty and empowerment; our ability to be informed about and criticize our government maintains the balance of power that requires our leaders to be held accountable to their citizens.

A simple example of this fact is found in the acknowledgement Steven Wilkinson, then of the University of Chicago Political Science Department, gave to the merits of journalism over government data in academic research.

In his annual review concerning riots, he deliberately cites police officers in India “often sharply underestimate the real level of violence” when it comes to reporting riots so that crime rates will appear more favorable to their superiors.

Therefore, “it makes much more sense to use newspapers or other sources to collect riot data to test our theories,” according to Wilkinson.

News exists to provide representation and alternate perspectives; it is a platform for the public to see events objectively rather than through a lens that another entity would put on.

Without a voice of the people, who will speak up and hold the government accountable?

Why aren’t more people paying attention to the issue of suppressed journalism? How can society not see when personal liberties are being deprioritized by the silencing of the press?

To quote Marie Colvin, a famous foreign war correspondent killed in 2012, “Where is the world?”

The United States is not exempt from responsibility for this global trend.

Trump’s war on media has been famous since the 2016 election. From his public admonishing of CNN to his tweets naming the press “the enemy of the American people.”

Trump has made his lack of support for the profession of journalism abundantly clear.
Americans cannot allow for this disrespect of the profession of journalism to continue; reporting is foundational to functional democracy.

It is our responsibility as individuals to maintain high standards for what we consume. We cannot allow our natural right to unbiased information to be inhibited.

This responsibility ultimately transfers onto journalists themselves as well.

A reporter without respect for the gravity and consequences of their profession does both themselves and society a disservice.

Journalists who abuse their position to further their own agendas ought to similarly be held responsible for those who verbally abuse the profession, as they equally undermine the public’s ability to exercise their right to be informed.

Informing the people is one of the most important vehicles of empowerment that we possess.

Education is the great equalizer between classes; to silence journalism is to widen the chasm between the informed and uninformed, the powerful and the weak, the elite and the ordinary.

Remembering the significance a free press has to the foundations of our society is critical to the success of our democracy.

During times of political uncertainty and conflict, having sources that can bring clarity in the midst of chaos is imperative to citizens’ ability to make educated decisions.

It is time to remember why we put our trust in journalism, and for journalism to remember why it needs to earn that trust.

Forgetting to do so is to destabilize the bridge between those in power and those that keep them there.