Attacks on press threaten everyone’s rights

Jan. 7, 2015: Cherif and Said Kouachi, clad in black and armed with assault rifles, forced their way into a Charlie Hebdo editorial meeting. They proceeded to murder 12 journalists.

Aug. 19, 2014: Jihadist terrorists brutally beheaded American journalist James Foley after he was abducted while working in Syria. They then released a gory video as a word of warning to the West.

Aug. 17, 2014: Police officers threatened journalists with mace and even bullets in the streets of Ferguson, Missouri. Reporters were arrested for doing their jobs while others watched and provided the entire world with a play-by-play via Twitter.

The following video documents a police officer threatening to shoot a journalist in Ferguson. (Warning: Occasional strong language.):

These are just three of the hundreds of attacks on the press that occur around the world each year. According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 2014 saw 61 journalists executed solely because of their jobs. Over 230 became or remained imprisoned. Several went missing.

When we think about journalists being killed, we often think about war zones and Middle Eastern countries riddled with controversy. Many journalists, like James Foley, are abducted and executed in these places. But brutal crimes against members of the press are not limited to the 10/40 window.

Earlier this month, we saw a brutal scene play out in Paris, France, a place where members of the press have been peacefully received for decades. We saw two men, offended by satire, barge into an office and take 12 lives. They took children from parents and parents from children.

Five months ago, we saw violent restriction of the press on American soil. We saw police officers, people we pay to protect us and our rights, threaten reporters for documenting the truth. We so proudly boast about our First Amendment rights, about freedom of speech and of the press, but we watched as our protectors disregarded those rights. We watched as they tried to stifle journalists and interfere with our right to know what is happening in our own country, our own communities.

It is our duty, as human beings, to be outraged about the attacks made on journalists in our own backyards, in France and yes, even in the Middle East. We cannot sit by and watch the people working to inform us of what is happening in our world be threatened, attacked and even killed without being driven to anger. It is a basic human instinct to be affected by loss of life – how much more when that loss is expedited by the hands of brutal killers?

As Christians, we should feel this effect even greater. We pick up our signs to protest abortion. We hand out food to the hungry. We donate winter coats to those who may freeze to death without them. We claim to be concerned with life. If we are so concerned with life, how can we turn a blind eye as people are being killed for the simple expression of an opinion, or more frequent, for working to reveal the truth?

If we stand for truth and we stand for life, we cannot look away when both are being so blatantly disrespected, violated and destroyed.

Our benevolence and concern should not be the only things driving us to a passionate response, however. These attacks on the press also directly affects us. When journalists are prevented from doing their jobs, news does not get out. When news does not get out, we cease to know what is happening in our world.

Journalists act as a watchdog over the people in authority. They tell us what those people are doing, how they are acting, what decisions they are making. Authority figures and government officials know they cannot get away with much when a journalist is near by. But, when those journalists are stopped, people can do whatever they want. We will not know. We will not be able to protest. We will not be able to enact change. We will be completely in the dark, and nothing good happens in the dark.

If the people at Charlie Hebdo can be murdered for expressing an opinion that happens to offend, who said we weren’t next? If James Foley can be beheaded for seeking truth amidst corruption, who said that would never happen to us? If journalists can be threatened and arrested for asking questions and taking pictures in the only country with an expressly given freedom of the press, who said we would keep being so free?

In the words of Martin Luther King Jr., “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.”

We should care because human life is being stolen. We should care because the only objective sources bridging the powerful and the proletariat is being threatened. We should care because our lives and our rights are hanging in the same balance.

One of the best ways for us to preserve our right to know is by exercising our right to speak. When we know what is happening around us and then talk about it, we can spur others to do the same. When we, as a collective, rise up in support of journalists around the world, we can send a message about where we stand.

The truth is, we are many and where we stand matters when we are willing to defend it.