Freedom of expression is a pillar a free people. The ability to be well informed is the foundation of a healthy democracy. A strong and independent press is necessary to enable an engaged citizenry to make decision for the common good.
It is critical to reaffirm this mission of the media and journalists must not waver or give in to the tactics of intimidation coming from this White House. The daily drumbeat of hostility toward reporters and the strategy of repeating lies and issuing contradictory statements sows seeds of confusion and spreads doubt among the populace.
Latin Americans know these strategies all too well. They have lived through attacks on the press, the intimidation of reporters, censorship and self-censorship, all occurring as part of the uncontrolled ambitions of the presidential palace. It has been said that “this can’t happen here” although it is not hard to see the serious warning signs when the President declares the media as the ‘enemy of the people.’ Included in his declarations is the scapegoating of immigrants as enemies as well as part of this campaign of disinformation. Our response to this must be to become informed citizens, register to vote, and go to the polls on election day. Access to information is a basic foundation for political participation.
It is somewhat ironic that in these very critical moments when information to understand our complex reality is so very needed it is also the very moment when the situation of the media is so precarious. Newspapers have experienced a profound crisis that led to the closing of hundreds of publications and the drastic reduction of staff, which has undercut the depth and breadth of coverage. Just as it is urgent for citizens to vote, it is urgent for the people to support the press so it can do its job. There is a cost to finding information, investigating events, and producing the news.
The nation’s founders recognized the critical import of a free press for a democracy, and established it as the very First Amendment. They knew a wealth of independent sources of news and information was necessary to achieve the freedom of expression codified in that important amendment.
Democracy’s strength is based in a well-informed electorate able to make decisions that benefit the individual as well as the larger community. For that to happen, media outlets must be committed to reporting the facts when and as they occur, not based on convenience or spin, but on truth. From that basis, context-setting, analysis and opinions then follow. What must never be overlooked are the facts.
The press is called the Fourth Estate for a reason. It serves as a check on the Executive Branch and potential abuse of power, it monitors that vested interests do not dominate the legislature, and it calls out unjust decisions issued by the judiciary. Journalism is a resource in the hands of the people to empower them to understand their choices and make informed decisions. In many ways, the press are the vigilant eyes of the community. The questions that force an explanation from the powerful are the words of people demanding an answer.
The calling of the media is to continue reporting. To be well informed is to the best defense for the democracy.