As Americans, we are taught from childhood to internalize the importance of freedom and to sing the praises of the “land of the free.” Political rallies, presidential speeches, and Internet forums light up day after day with fierce debates over freedom of speech or
religion or the right to bear arms, but one freedom most of us fail to prioritize as we should is one unique to developed countries yet absolutely critical to a true democracy: freedom of the press.
Photo: Joshua Hoehne on Unsplash
Journalists expose government corruption, systemic and societal injustices, business malpractices, human rights violations, and more truths that powerful institutions try to hide. Despite efforts to keep certain acts under wraps, it is imperative that citizens understand
all motives and beliefs of those in power in order to be fully informed when fulfilling their civic duties of voting and partaking in political discourse. That is the media’s job, yet we are entering an era where popular opinion of the media is ever declining and political
leaders encourage silencing the free press that brings to light these pivotal issues. We need to protect our democracy by demanding honesty and transparency in government and big business, but this goal can never be achieved if our society responds to negative coverage by denouncing the entirety of American media and therefore threatening
the freedom of the press.
Our President tweeted that any criticisms the media make of him or his administration are “fake news” and shared a GIF of himself physically attacking a popular news outlet, and today, the communications director threatened to fire anyone who “leaks sensitive information” to the media. This is how the government starts to encourage dismantling the very right that makes a society the freest. If the general public agrees with the leaders who wish to silence those meant to inform, they unwittingly forfeit the masses’ right to know the
truths about our society and see our world from all perspectives. Historically, verbal attacks on the media from the government snowball into blatant censorship; from 15th century Europe to the Russian empire in the 20th century, from Nazi Germany to apartheid South Africa, “Truth is the first victim in a war.”
The media exists to unveil the illegal and immoral to the public eye. For this reason, the countries that silence journalists are the ones with something to hide. Weak democracies and corrupt governments value censorship more than they do the freedom and rights of their citizens, as they can carry on with wrongdoings if the public is kept in the dark. Making an enemy of the press is a fascist, totalitarian practice and inhibits the informed, open, and free democracy America aims to be. We pride ourselves on having built a society on personal liberty, but when we demonize the media and police the press, we give up one of the most important rights our founding fathers established that keep us so free.
Most attacks on American media are unfounded, but unfortunately, many sources have in fact given way to the defamation, assumption, and abundant bias that increase readership but decrease trust. Dishonest media sources only add fuel to the fire of anti-media arguments, acting against the cause by supplying those in opposition with
ammunition. We can’t afford to allow our government to advocate for or establish censorship during an era where political polarization is so rampant and the truth is so muddled. Instead of simply denouncing the media as a whole, then, the general public must demand that independent media sources focus on reporting the truth rather than
increasing their readership, and journalists should reestablish public trust in the press by demanding honesty and integrity when reporting the facts – but never practicing false neutrality. Unbiased journalism is not pretending that all arguments are valid, but simply explaining the facts. Explaining why some policies or people pose a threat is not an example of bias or “propaganda” as so many may claim; false neutrality is a mode of propaganda in itself and is a way to pander to those who subscribe to anti-media rhetoric rather than to end the dangerous notions that influence them. As broadcast journalist Walter Cronkite said, “A democracy ceases to be a democracy if its citizens do not participate in its governance. To participate intelligently, they must know what their government has done, is doing, and plans to do in their name. Whenever any hindrance,
no matter what its name, is placed in the way of this information, a democracy is weakened, and its future endangered. This is the meaning of freedom of the press. It is not just important to democracy, it is democracy.”
A free press makes a free country, and a free country promotes increases in political awareness, sustainable development, economic security, education, and health of the populace. Our nation needs young, politically-minded voices to emerge and set the media back on track to revitalize public trust in the news in order to realign the current political battleground with social progress and bipartisan compromise. We must demand honesty and integrity in journalism so those in the field can better demand accountability and transparency in government and business. It’s the only way to ensure that America
remains “the land of the free.”
Emily Rose is 17 years old and from Athens, Georgia. Beginning in fall 2017, she will attend Mercer University. She plans to double major in Journalism and Political Science and to minor in Global Development Studies. She is a writer, musician, activist, and feminist who hopes to use her platforms to inspire positive change by providing different perspectives on the world’s political and social issues.