Column: The emily angle – A free press keeps freedom alive
News is such a commodity to us that we sometimes mock it. Our phones light up with dozens of news alerts daily, and we far too often take this privilege for granted when there are millions living without access to true information. To live in a free society and not take advantage of the availability of this information is to neglect a privilege many around the world have no access to.
The coronavirus is seeping across China, with over 800 lives claimed and over 37,100 confirmed cases of the disease, as of Sunday, according to NBC News. The first U.S. citizen died from the coronavirus Saturday, and the virus has permeated into other countries such as the Philippines and Hong Kong, according to NBC News. Many believe the numbers of those infected are actually higher.
According to Hong Kong Free Press (HKFP), the first case of the coronavirus emerged Dec. 8, but Chinese media outlets did not cover the outbreak until Dec. 31. Chen Qiushi, a citizen journalist and former human rights attorney traveled to the quarantined city of Wuhan, the origin of the outbreak, to report the situation because “information should travel faster than the virus,” Oiwan Lam said in the HKFP article. Qiushi went missing Thursday, and his friends and family believe he has been silenced because of his reports online on the true nature of the outbreak, according to CNN.
The full story of the outbreak has not been told due to heavy press censorship and the control of social media and news outlets. People are quarantined, and victims are suffering, yet the world does not know the full extent of the outbreak because of the lack of free press.
According to NPR, the government removes local news reports exposing the circumstances in Wuhan and scrubs the social media accounts of those who are suffering and desperate for medical care.
Dr. Li Wenliang, one of the first whistleblowers to expose the virus, died Friday from the coronavirus. When he discovered the mysterious new virus in early December, his attempts to report his findings were reprimanded, according to CNN. After his death, the hashtag “I want freedom of speech” began to trend on social media, garnering over 2 million views on a Chinese blogging site. By sunrise, the posts were gone.
The Chinese government fights for control over the coronavirus narrative, attempting to silence the voices of those who speak. The censored press in China and other parts of the world keeps people oppressed and in the dark. With the epidemic nature of the coronavirus, this could mean life or death.
When the press is not free, people suffer and powers run unfettered. The silence of the media cannot continue in censored areas because lives are counting on it.
The Washington Post operates under the words, “Democracy Dies in Darkness.” Thomas Jefferson praised the free press and said, “no government ought to be without censors, and where the press is free no one ever will.”
In 1839, Edward Bulwer-Lytton coined the words, “the pen is mightier than the sword,” according to BBC News. A pen wielded properly possesses power.
In the Middle Ages, the Catholic Church banned its church members from reading or owning a Bible in order to control teaching and enhance the church’s power. According to Christianity Today, when William Tyndale translated the Bible into English to make it accessible for common people in the 1500s, he was burned at the stake. Knowledge empowers people with the facts to invoke necessary change and those in control sometimes fear this reality.
The First Amendment ensures the protection of freedom of speech, religion and the press, all three essential factors for a free people to remain free.
Much of modern journalism is a far cry from what it is intended to be, but the important thing is that the free press in the United States is vibrant. Flawed in many ways, yes, but still alive and well.
Thomas Jefferson said freedom would be a “short-lived possession” unless people are informed. Journalism, in its purest form, has the sole purpose to present truth and ultimately, preserve freedom.
A free press saves lives. A free press evokes change. A free press keeps freedom alive.
Where the press is free, so are the people. A free press is a force to be reckoned with.
Wood is the editor-in-chief. Keep up with her on Twitter.