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Why You Need to Support a Free Press

World Press Freedom Day was observed earlier this month (May 3).

This day is promoted annually by UNESCO (the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization).

According to its website, it “is a date which celebrates the fundamental principles of press freedom, to evaluate press freedom around the world, to defend the media from attacks on their independence and to pay tribute to journalists who have lost their lives in the exercise of their profession.”

“It serves as an occasion to inform citizens of violations of press freedom – a reminder that in dozens of countries around the world, publications are censored, fined, suspended and closed down, while journalists, editors and publishers are harassed, attacked, detained and even murdered,” UNESCO explains. “It is a date to encourage and develop initiatives in favor of press freedom and to assess the state of press freedom worldwide.”

“3 May acts as a reminder to governments of the need to respect their commitment to press freedom and is also a day of reflection among media professionals about issues of press freedom and professional ethics,” the website states. “Just as importantly, World Press Freedom Day is a day of support for media which are targets for the restraint, or abolition, of press freedom. It is also a day of remembrance for those journalists who lost their lives in the pursuit of a story.”

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ), 1,303 journalists have been killed worldwide since 1992.

Nine died on April 30 of this year in an attack in Kabul, Afghanistan. They were covering the aftermath of a suicide bombing when a second bomb was set off, killing the journalists and several relief workers.

Also, according to the CPJ, 262 journalists were imprisoned in 2017.

We assume that journalists here in the United States aren’t in danger, but we have some cause to be concerned.

People in very high places say very negative things about journalists who report unfavorable things about them.

Sometimes, they even point to the journalists who are covering a large gathering and criticize them in extreme terms.

Politicians should be careful with such words. It’s bad enough to intentionally inspire disdain toward the press, but they could unintentionally inspire violence.

The First Amendment of the United States Constitution says, “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.”

According to the Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University School of Law, the Supreme Court has held that the First Amendment’s prohibition of Congress from making any law against freedom of the press applies to the entire federal government and to state governments.

We should support a free press around the world. We should also support a free press in our own nation.

I know we hear a lot about “fake news,” but it seems to me that what some people call “fake news” is actually negative coverage they don’t like, rather than something that is factually incorrect.

Journalists aren’t perfect. Reporters have their perspectives and worldviews as anyone else does. But we need a free press because it is necessary to our democracy.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t have time to investigate everything that our elected and appointed officials are doing. That’s the job of journalists, and we need them to keep doing it.

Michael Ruffin is curriculum editor with Smyth & Helwys Publishing in Macon, Georgia. A version of this column first appeared on his blog, On the Jericho Road, and is used with permission. You can follow him on Twitter @ruffinmichael.