The importance of a free press

Am I about to be that whiny college reporter that writes about the importance of a free and open press on his blog?

Damn right I am.

Today is World Press Freedom Day. The United Nations declared May 3 to be World Press Freedom Day in 1993 and it’s been observed globally ever since.

Important people, like Richard Stengel, former managing editor of Time and current high-ranking member of the State Department, like to write about a free and open press in happy, abstract ways on Press Freedom Day.

I don’t dislike what Stengel wrote for HuffPo. It was nice. Touching. Affirming, even.

But I’m not so sure that it was holistic, or even realistic.

Stengel wrote about the poor state of journalism in countries like Iran and a global epidemic about a free press, before saying that a primary goal at State is “free, unfettered, uncensored access to information.”

He writes this, however, at a time when the press in this country are being attacked for doing their job — or being prevented from doing their job.

I’m right outside of Baltimore City, where several members of the press have been hassled by the police or else told that they can’t work.

While there was a city-wide curfew in effect, members of the media were allowed to travel after curfew and continue to observe any police clashes with protestors.

That quickly changed, however. Eventually, it was only credentialed members of the media that were allowed out after curfew — so any journalists that were bloggers or working for smaller-name outlets weren’t allowed the freedom to travel the city.

Then, the press were corralled to staging areas and no longer allowed to travel about the city.

How can the press, the watchdogs of the government, effectively serve their role if they’re confined to one space?

How can someone in the State Department speak so highly of the state of journalism in this country while the press is being restricted in Baltimore?

Journalists should always be up front about their biases, especially when it’s going to affect their reporting. So let me say it now, for the record: I am unashamedly biased toward a truly free and open press.

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