The May 3 United Nations’ observance of World Press Freedom Day was probably not something that most people marked on their calendars.
That doesn’t mean it’s not a vitally important issue, here and around the world.
In the United States, of course, our founding fathers saw freedom of the press as important enough to enshrine as a right in the First Amendment of the Constitution.
Today, even in our hyper-partisan political environment, two influential members of Congress, a Democrat and a Republican, issued a powerful bipartisan statement on World Press Freedom Day calling for protection of journalists around the world.
The co-chairmen of the Congressional Freedom of the Press Caucus, Reps. Steve Chabot, R-Ohio, and Adam B. Schiff, D-Calif., emphasized the need to “stand up for press freedom in nations where the simple act of reporting the truth can lead to imprisonment, assault and even murder.”
They cited the brutal murder of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi by agents of the Saudi Arabian government for his criticism of the kingdom and the crown prince; the violence, arrests and intimidation employed against independent media organizations by Nicolas Maduro’s regime in Venezuela; Russia, where the Kremlin has mastered the art of spreading disinformation as a geopolitical weapon, while implementing laws to stifle dissent and free expression within its borders; and, closer to home, the five staff members of the Capital Gazette who were gunned down last year in their newsroom in Annapolis, Md.
In Asia, Church leaders across the region have expressed alarm over reports of increasing attacks and intimidation of journalists. The media advocacy group Reporters Without Borders, in its annual World Press Freedom Index covering 180 countries, noted that Asian governments have been using laws to cultivate an atmosphere of fear among journalists.
In the Philippines, where several journalists have been killed in recent years, the reporters’ group said, persecution of media practitioners was accompanied by online harassment campaigns.
Church leaders critical of President Rodrigo Duterte’s administration described press freedom and freedom of information as “precarious.”
“The government is not tolerant of those who criticize it,” said Auxiliary Bishop Broderick Pabillo of Manila.
Reporting in Pakistan, especially about religion, has become a “risky business” in recent years, Church leaders have said.
“Our voices are suppressed especially in news relating to church attacks,” said Father Qaiser Feroz, executive secretary of the Social Communication Commission of the Pakistan bishops’ conference.
With the Church’s observance of World Communications Day coming up June 2, Catholics everywhere would do well to keep in mind the threats to freedom of the press, which can undermine the democracy we hold so dear.
Khashoggi, in what would be his final column, made an impassioned plea for a reawakening of democracy and free expression in the Arab world.
Reps. Chabot and Schiff said his words are applicable the world over.
We agree, and we join the Congress members in their commitment to redoubling their advocacy for journalists “who do their job and promote democracy.”
As freedom-loving people, our way of life depends on it.