Thursday, May 06, 2004

World Press Freedom Day - Come And Gone

The Carroll County Star-Tribune reminds us of the importance of World Press Freedom Day in an inspiring editorial.
Today is World Press Freedom Day, a time to honor those nations that embrace one of democracys most essential rights.

Few in the United States are familiar with this important commemoration, which marks the May 3 anniversary of the 1991 signing of the Windhoek Declaration in Africa that calls for free, independent and pluralist media in every country.

Perhaps that is because we Americans take our First Amendment rights as a given. But sadly, these basic freedoms do not exist throughout much of the world, where media repression is the norm. Around the globe, in places like Cuba and China and parts of the Middle East, journalists routinely face censorship, imprisonment and assault. Many have given their lives - 36 in 2003, at least 17 more this year - in pursuit of truth. According to the New York-based Committee to Protect Journalists, another 136 were jailed in each of the past two years as a direct result of their work.


And, it can serve as a reminder for all Americans to vigorously oppose those including some in our own government whose policies and actions threaten our status as the most open nation in history.

Recently, that climate of openness has been threatened as national security concerns have been used as a pretense to close the door on the people's right to know.

Certainly, there is justification for classifying information that could clearly endanger our fellow citizens.

But increasingly, champions of open government - Republicans and Democrats, conservatives and liberals - are warning that national security is being used by government officials and clever corporations as a pretense to withhold information that might prove embarrassing or reveal illegalities.

As literally tens of millions of previously public documents have been stamped secret, it has become more difficult for the press to perform its historic watchdog role. And, average citizens cannot acquire information essential for their own well-being. In the past, that information has been used to expose hazardous waste dumps, rogue police officers, dangerous chemical accidents, aviation safety records, or even whether your next door neighbor has been injured in a train or plane crash.


Freedom of information is healthy for society. It encourages public debate, reveals wrongdoing and holds government officials accountable. It has made us the great nation we are.

But when public information slips from sunlight into darkness, ignorance and tyranny quickly follow. And the United States ceases to be the model to which repressive nations should aspire.

Hear, hear.