Colleen's thoughts on writing, directing and coaching, and her unique take on life itself!

Saturday, February 23, 2008

Dying to tell the truth

It's often occurred to me that Americans take for granted a couple things that people in other nations treasure - enough to fight and die for them.

The first is the right to vote.

Despite the fact that our right to vote was won off the blood of so many patriots who sacrificed all they had to give, relatively few citizens actually show up to exercise that right, and there are still areas of the US where voting is sabotaged at elections, where voting machines do not work properly (some reportedly deliberately miscasting votes for the wrong candidates), and where dirty tricks are used to try to keep voters away from the polls.

The excitement of this year's presidential race is, fortunately, inspiring many more people to get involved in the American political process - but the comparative percentage of those who vote and those who are qualified and don't vote remains poor.

Still, believe me, what is going on in American politics today is the very reason ultra conservatives fought some very dirty and deadly battles to prevent women and people of color from voting. The thought of a woman and a black man running for US President - and having a chance to win the office - would set them using little brown sacks in which to breathe. If they could. More likely, they're spinning in their graves like rotisserie chickens on steriods.

Actually, based on their probable nominee, it would appear the Republicans are still many, many years from supporting a woman or person of color as their party's presidential nominee.

The other thing I believe we Americans take for granted is "freedom of the press." Including too many journalists.

The US constitution is supposed to guarantee freedom of the press, but as A. J. Liebling put it, "Freedom of the press is limited to those who own one." He also noted that, "People everywhere confuse what they read in newspapers with the news."

Interestingly, many people who interact with reporters in the US consider them lazy, thin-skinned and reluctant to noticably correct any mistakes they make after damage is done. Another dilemma for US media is that consumers frequently don't understand the difference between publications like The New York Times and sensationalistic tabloids like The National Enquirer. Or that NBC news is different from Fox news or sensationalistic tabloid news magazine TV programs.

In many ways, the nation with a constitutional guarantee of press freedom enjoys less real news than other countries that have no such constitutional guarantee because so many US media owners are more interested in profits than they are a potent, passionate, empowered journalist-centric media and so many of today's "newsmakers" have no qualms about lying to reporters and spinning the truth; enjoying a calm certainty their lies probably won't be discovered, exposed or reported.

There are still many topnotch journalists practicing in the US, but my belief is that they're outnumbered by those who are not because of the way the industry is run these days.

Lots of magazine editors are more interested in pictures of Britney Spears than they are anything that might be a little more insightful or thoughtful or ... actual information. And I suppose those photographers after Britney put themselves in danger of having their foot run over by her SUV or getting sqeezed by the hoard of "craparazzis."

Hopefully kids will become more interested in real news rather than just entertainment with access to the internet. Despite so much garbage on the web, there are many websites with excellent and true information if we look for them, and youngsters are starting their own with accurate information.

Journalists around the world tend to be in considerably more danger when they actively search for the truth, usually covering stories on politics, crime and criminals, corruption, deception and victimizing less powerful people.

The Committee to Protect Journalists, an international group dedicated to defending press freedom worldwide, reports that 65 journalists were killed in 2007, with Iraq and Somalia being the two most lethal nations for reporters and photojournalists. CPJ notes that 7 out of 10 of those 65 deaths were murders. 20 other media workers (editors, distributors, managers) were killed.

Nations in which journalists and media workers have been killed and murdered in the line of duty: United States, Russia, Mexico, Pakistan, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Iraq, India, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Somalia, Philippines, Nepal, Haiti, Guatemala, El Salvador, Democratic Republic of Congo, Colombia, China, Brazil, Zimbabwe, Turkey, Peru, Paraguay, Nepal, Kyrgyzstan, Honduras, Eritrea, Burma.

To read about the details of each journalist/media worker's death, read the CPJ report.

There is also a list of journalists who have disappeared without a trace and therefore cannot be considered dead, but only missing.

Currently there are 127 journalists jailed internationally, including an Afghan reporter who is being detained by the US military in Afghanistan. Nearly 30 of those imprisoned journalists are being held with no public notice or media coverage. The majority are held without any charges filed against them.

CNN's Christiane Amanpour wrote the preface for the CPJ annual report, "Attacks on the Press." She reports most of the journalists about whom I've written here "are targeted and hunted down, then shot, bludgeoned, or stabbed." Not killed in battles.

Worse, she says, "85 percent of these murders are carried out with impunity." Governments and law enforcement do not take any action to seek justice for their deaths.

She adds the pressure is on to: "Stop reporting anything sensitive." In too many instances, if the government does not censor them, "Journalists censor themselves and a whole society is the poorer, deprived of vital information and the ability to hold those in power to account..."

Recently, Denmark's media took surprising action against self-censorship. They fought back, refusing to allow a bully's death threat interfere with their press freedoms. More than a dozen Danish newspapers linked ink - reprinting the same cartoon en masse that sparked violent Muslim protests in 2006 — after police revealed an suspected plot to murder the cartoonist.

I hope this is a turning point for media that have in the past consistently and constantly succumbed to pressure from any special interest group or government, such as the US media did following 9/11.

Perhaps Anamanpour's most important observation: "Impunity is the single biggest threat facing journalists today. Murder, after all, is the ultimate form of censorship."

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