Valuing a free press

John Foley and his wife, Diane, pray during a a vigil for their son James at the Marquette University Union in Milwaukee April 5, 2013. James, a 1996 graduate of Marquette who is a journalist covering the civil war in Syria, has been missing since November 2012. (CNS photo/Allen Fredrickson, Catholic Herald)

It’s easy for Americans to take for granted our free press. When Fox News reports that President Obama caused the current immigration crisis in the same week that MSNBC paints Obama as a hero helping migrant children, we roll our eyes and chalk it up to political bias. We may laugh or we may be disgusted, but what we miss is that both Fox and MSNBC are able to report the news – as they see it – without forfeiting their lives, their safety or their jobs.

This isn’t really the case for journalists in other countries around the world.

According to the U.S.-based Committee to Protect Journalists, in 2014 seven journalists have been murdered worldwide, some by thugs, others by what surviving family members can only assume were corrupt government officials. Almost all – 86 percent – of the murdered journalists were political reporters, and 71 percent covered corruption.

Just last week, four Burmese reporters and a newspaper executive were sentenced to 10 years of hard labor for reporting that a military-owned factory was producing chemical weapons, an allegation the military denies. Last month, three Al-Jazeera reporters were handed seven-year prison sentences in Egypt for “spreading false news” and supporting the Muslim Brotherhood.

I don’t mean to suggest that we should stop lamenting the absurdly divisive state of American news, but I do think we ought to put it in to perspective in order to fully recognize our unhindered access to information as the blessing it is. The old adage that knowledge is power is cliché but true. There’s a reason why oppressive regimes put strict limitations on information and Internet access. An informed people is a powerful people, and that’s why a free press is so important.

Many of the stories we publish here at the Global Sisters Report are stories of hope and inspiration, stories of women religious following the Holy Spirit to the margins and living out the Gospel among the least of people all around the world. And there’s a lot that I love about the work that we do, but near the top of my list is the fact we tell underreported stories. I love that we have the freedom to cover child labor issues in Vietnam and to question the institutions that control the education of women religious in the Global South.

It’s important to know about these issues – and others like them – so we can prayerfully consider them and then support whom we can or do what we can to make a difference. And we, as a global society, can’t do that without journalists who are free to report what they uncover in their communities without fear of repercussion.

Journalism, after all, is not a crime.

[Dawn Cherie Araujo is staff reporter for Global Sisters Report.]