Respecting Freedom of the Press

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

-United States Constitution

KATHY ZHUO: We are lucky enough to live in a democracy, the United States, where citizens and the press have the right to criticize the government without the fear of being killed. However, this isn’t the case in many other countries. Recent events, such as the death of Saudi journalist Jamal Khashoggi, reflect the threats and dangers that critical journalists face. According to the World Press Freedom Index, many of the lower ranking countries have no tolerance for independent news organizations, the government has a tight control over the media, and reporters are consistently threatened.

In Russia, journalism becomes more dangerous everyday. Anna Politkovskaya was assassinated in her own apartment complex. Dmitry Popkov was found dead from gunshot wounds, and Nikolai Andrushchenko was beaten to death. All of them were reporters who reported for anti-Kremlin newspapers or investigated the crimes of Russia.

In China, the government controls media content by censoring anti-government media, jailing critics, and spreading their own propaganda through all official newspaper outlets. In order to have even more control, the Chinese government has put up the “Great Firewall of China,” blocking a good portion of foreign media, including Facebook, Google, and Twitter.  

North Korea is known as one of the most repressive regimes in the entire world, starving citizens and assassinating anyone who seems to hold anti-government sentiments. News in North Korea is heavily regulated by the government, with reports often praising Kim Jong-Un, spreading a false representation of the state of North Korea, and preventing foreign media from having a presence by securing the borders or monitoring diplomats.

Newseum, Press Freedom Map

Newseum, Press Freedom Map

However, freedom of press isn’t just an issue limited to countries with restrictive governments. In the United States, the press has been attacked with accusations of bias and accused of being “fake news” or “enemy of the people” by President Trump.  The president routinely attacks any news organization that criticizes his actions or policies, prevents their journalists from asking questions at press conferences, and blames the media for things that go wrong.

As a country that prides ourselves in democracy and values of liberty and freedom, any action to suppress the press undermines our fundamental American values, and we should be ashamed of our 45th place ranking on the World Press Freedom Index. It is our duty to hold politicians accountable and defend the right to a free press both in our own country and abroad.

Max Magid