Bleeding the Black Ink

Celebrating World Press Freedom Day

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"Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press by allowed? Why should a government, which is doing what it believes to be right, allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?"

-- Vladimir Lenin

(1870-1924)

"The problem, if there is a problem in this country, is because we have a free press, people have no idea what it's like to live in a country that doesn't."

-- Art Buchwald (1925- )

In the United States, we often take for granted what a dangerous job journalism can be.

In a country that upholds a free press, reporters are not beaten, kidnapped, jailed or murdered.

Unfortunately such is not the case around the world.

According to Freedom House, a non-profit, nonpartisan organization promoting democracy around the world, only 21 percent of the world's people live in countries with a fully free press.

That means only 21 percent of the world's people can express themselves freely, can exchange ideas, can keep informed and can hold government accountable.

These governments that do not allow a free press jailed more than 130 journalists around the world in 2002, according to the Community to Protect Journalists.

CPJ, a nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to the global defense of press freedom and based in New York, points out that 19 reporters were killed in 2002, which is the lowest number recorded since the organization began keeping track in 1985 -- a morbid argument for progress.

The United Nations' Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization reports that of the 523 journalists killed between 1992 and 2002, 374 were intentionally murdered: 128 for their political opinions, 67 for having exposed corruption, and 179 because they were in conflict areas but were killed despite having identified themselves as reporters.

I point these numbers out because May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, a day that celebrates the fundamental and critical role that a free press plays in a democratic society. It also is a day to take note of the many nations that censor, fine, suspend or shutdown publications, or intimidate, attack, detain and even murder journalists.

The right to a free press is the cornerstone of the right to free speech, which, in turn, is the basis of the most basic rights that our Constitution guarantees. It's hard to have freedom of religion if one cannot express his or her beliefs.

This is why when coups and revolutions occur, the first targets, even before seats of power, are newspapers, television and radio stations.

While the CPJ keeps track of those journalists killed and imprisoned around the globe, it also maintains a list of the top ten "worst" places in the world to be a journalists -- where these violations against a free press are the most flagrant and go unpunished.

Those locations are the West Bank, Columbia, Afghanistan, Eritrea (located off the African coast in the Red Sea), Belarus (former Soviet country), Burma, Zimbabwe, Iran, Kyrgyzstan (central Asia) and Cuba. There are tabloids, publications, radio and television shows that we in America are sometimes quick to write off and wonder why the should even be allowed to be published or broadcast.

Of course you don't have to buy the National Enquirer, or the Weekly World News, or listen to Dr. Laura, or pick up the Craig Daily Press. We have that right. Thank God.

"Bleeding the Black Ink" is a weekly column that aims at getting readers better acquainted with the Craig Daily Press, the First Amendment and the newspaper industry. Do you have a question or an issue for an upcoming column? Call Terrance Vestal at 824-7031 or email him at tvestal@craigdailypress.com.

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