The press is not the ‘enemy of the people’

By Ellen Ratner

The United Nations declared Friday as World Press Freedom Day. The Declaration of Human Rights was passed by the United Nations in December of 1948 when there were 58 members of the UN. Now Press Freedom Day is an annual event, although it was first recognized as a way to establish freedom of the press.

Freedom of the Press was enshrined in our Constitution in the First Amendment, which reads: “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.”

What we do know is the UNESCO – an agency of the United Nations – brings together press folks to assess the state of press freedom.

I am on the American advisory board of Reporters without Borders (RSF), and one of the things we track is how many journalists are jailed, killed or even harassed. Here is an example of our latest release about a journalist who was killed in Mexico:

The journalist, Telésforo Santiago Enríquez, was gunned down in cold blood on May 2, 2019 in the southern state of Oaxaca. Reporters without Borders (RSF) calls on the Mexican authorities to shed all possible light on his murder.”

Telésforo Santiago Enríquez was shot yesterday as he was driving his car in San Agustín Loxicha. The local authorities said he was ambushed. He was the fourth journalist to be gunned down in Mexico this year.

Enríquez taught indigenous languages and was an indigenous rights activist. He was also the founder of El Cafetal, a community radio on which he often criticized the local authorities. RSF has been told that he received death threats in February.

“We call on the authorities to conduct an exhaustive and transparent investigation into Telésforo Santiago Enríquez’s death,” said Emmanuel Colombié, the head of RSF’s Latin America bureau. “This latest murder is yet another reminder of how dangerous journalism is in Mexico.”

Also, just this week from RSF, two Libyan Journalists – Mohamed Gurj and Mohamed Chibani “were detained by an armed group on the outskirts of Tripoli yesterday while covering clashes between Gen. Khalifa Haftar’s forces. Twenty-four hours after their arrest, nothing is known for certain about their fate. … RSF has been told they are being held in Tarhuna, a town 80 km southeast of Tripoli that is the centre of Gen. Haftar’s operations in western Libya. … ‘We appeal to all the armed forces and militias with a presence on the ground to respect international law and to not target the media,’ said Souhaieb Khayati, the head of RSF’s North Africa desk. ‘And we call for the immediate and unconditional release of these two Libyan journalists.'”

We know that a part-time American journalist, Jamal Khashoggi, was killed. He was critical of the Saudi government, although he certainly supported them in the past.

Reporters Without Borders (RSF) said that on World Press Freedom Day, it was going to begin an All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) in the United Kingdom to work on press freedom in the UK as well as globally.

Recently, Reporters without Borders put out the 2019 World Press Freedom Index … and the U.S. is not first. The announcement comes just two weeks after the launch of RSF’s 2019 World Press Freedom Index. The U.S ranks 48, and part of the reason is that President Trump has called the press “the enemy of the people.”

People want to hold on to power, and a journalist’s job is to expose lies, secrets, payoffs, etc. Unfortunately, many journalists lose their lives in trying to expose the truth. President Donald Trump can say “fake news” all he wants, but that does not change our rules about “freedom of the press.”

We are people who are just doing our jobs and holding those in power accountable. There is nothing wrong with that, and we are certainly not “the enemy of the people.” We know journalists who are murdered or put in prison for daring to speak the truth.

World Press Freedom Day celebrates what is enshrined in our Constitution and has been since the late 1700s. It is time that we celebrate and foster press freedom, both here and abroad.

Leave a Comment