It’s about time … for supporting the free press

Column by Andrea W. Doray
Posted 12/28/18

Time magazine has chosen “The Guardians,” a group of journalists who have been targeted for their work, as 2018 Person of the Year, highlighting what it calls “the War on Truth.” These …

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It’s about time … for supporting the free press

Posted

Time magazine has chosen “The Guardians,” a group of journalists who have been targeted for their work, as 2018 Person of the Year, highlighting what it calls “the War on Truth.”

These guardians are the faces of a free press continually besieged by governments, despots and dictators who seek to silence their critics, subvert democracy and bury the truth … sometimes along with those who would uncover it.

Just as Time’s 2017 selection was a group of people – the “Silence Breakers,” whom Time called the voices of #MeToo – the 2018 Person of the Year also encompasses more than one individual. Included are journalists at the Capital Gazette, the Annapolis, Maryland, newspaper where five employees were murdered by a gunman last June.

Imprisoned journalists Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo, two Reuters journalists, were arrested a year ago in Myanmar while working on stories about the killings of Rohingya Muslims. Maria Ressa leads Rappler, an online news site she helped found in the Philippines, and she has been indicted on allegations that could send her to prison for 10 years.

And, for the first time, Time included a deceased person, Washington Post contributor and Virginia resident Jamal Khashoggi, who was murdered inside the Saudi Arabian consulate in Turkey earlier this year. Time editor Ed Felsenthal said of Khashoggi that it’s “very rare that a person’s influence grows so immensely in death.”

“Influence” is the key word here. Felsenthal noted that Person of the Year designations are not necessarily honors, but rather an acknowledgement of the influence the person – or persons – had during the year. And so it is that the influence of a free press, amid the perils its members face, has become ever more important in current national and international environments.

Most of us know that journalists are persecuted worldwide … threatened, assaulted, detained, imprisoned, tortured, killed. Journalists are jailed in unprecedented numbers across the globe: 262 in 2017, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists, which predicts that number will be even higher for 2018.

There is a real thing called compassion fatigue, when we become numb to the plights of other groups of people, such as these journalists. A particular feature of compassion fatigue, however, is that when we associate an individual, a person, a face with the tragedy, we feel moved to react: think of the drowned toddler whose body washed ashore when a boat of asylum seekers sank in the Mediterranean Sea.

Time featured the faces of the journalists in four covers, stark black-and-white portraits on dark backgrounds. The wives of Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo hold photographs of their imprisoned husbands. Somber staff members of the Capital Gazette sit around a conference table. Ressa is looking slightly sideways at us. And the face of the murdered Khashoggi – so familiar to us by now – is partially in the light and partially shaded.

As Tom Vick writes in Time, “Efforts to undermine factual truth, and those who honestly seek it out, call into doubt the functioning of democracy. Freedom of speech, after all, was purposefully placed first in the Bill of Rights.”

It’s about time … and yes, that is a double entendre, because it’s about time members of the free press are recognized for the influence they wield – influence that sometimes gets them killed.

Andrea Doray is a writer who reminds us to support journalism … nationally, online, and especially at the local level. Contact Andrea at a.doray@andreadoray.com.

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