Friday, May 13, 2011

Revolution isn't free

Once upon a time I was a journalism major. I dropped out of college soon after being chosen to be the editor of my college newspaper-when I did return to college I got a degree in nursing but I still relish the news and newswriting. I like being well informed, and as my oldest and dearest friend Denise says, "I am the they in 'they say'."

I torture my children with NPR on a daily basis and love to peek at news sites during my work day. I am not a snob about my information either-I freely admit to enjoying celebrity nonsense as well as the more important world news. The media in the United States gets a lot of grief for being too invasive, too exploitive, too liberal. On any given day most anything published could be accused of at least one if not all of these complaints. But that really isn't the whole story.

Journalists in the United States enjoy unparalleled access to what becomes our news in real time and most of us take it for granted. We assume that if something important happens we'll find out about it at the top of the hour. There won't be a coup or conviction without us getting the full scoop. For many people in the world though that kind of access is not a standard, but the exception.

The Committee to Protect Journalists website keeps a running tally of press freedoms and restrictions around the world and posts information online regarding journalists jailed, tortured, or killed in pursuit of the news. At the end of 2010 the CPJ was able to confirm 145 journalists worldwide that were being held based on their attempts to cover the news. Almost 50 percent were in Iran and China, and given this springs historic events I am sure the number of imprisoned journalists in the Middle East is now much higher.

This year alone in less than 5 months, 16 journalists have been killed and their deaths have been directly attributed to their work. More startling is that since 1992 when the CPJ was formed and began keeping track of its' own-861 journalists have been killed worldwide. 861. Many no one ever heard of, no one ever read their stories.

Currently Dorothy Parvaz, a reporter for Al Jazeera, is being held without any communication in Iran. Parvaz holds dual citizenship in Iran and the U.S. and has traveled many times between the US and Middle East to provide an insiders view on the politics and culture of the Middle East. Parvaz had traveled to Syria where she was able to use her Iranian passport for entry to the country. Once her identity and her dual citizenship were discovered Syrian officials accused her of not telling them she was a journalist and shipped her to Iran, where she has been inexplicably kept without any communication since April 29th.

Iran has absolutely no reason to hold her, other than not liking nosy, opinionated broads, and I feel quite sure Parvaz is both. But Iran and Syria, and other countries ruled by leaders who continue to cling to autocratic and dictatorial rule, are threatened by the very existance of the media, much less  the free and open flow of information that Westerners take for granted.

Here's the truth though, the days of hiding in plain sight while you beat and bludgeon your citizens into submission are coming to an end. The evolution of the media and the innovations provided by technology have all but sounded the death knell for those who would hide their evil behind a cloak of protection for their countrymen.

The Middle East has erupted with a cacophony of tweets and blog posts from the epicenter of the chaos and it is at once both terrifying and thrilling for the soul. I can imagine the palpable feelings of joy and fear intermingling in the crowds and like the rest of the world I have watched in awe as these people have shown unflinching bravery in the face of knowing they would be beaten, jailed, even killed for demanding the right to choose their own way.

Those brave souls found out about the corruption within their own countries the old fashioned way. They read the paper, or heard the news from journalists within their own countries who were brave enough to root out the information without the Freedom of Information Act or the Bill of Rights. The very least we can do is make sure the men and women who continue to spread the word and shine a light in the deepest of chasms are safe from harm.

Becausee if we don't protect the rights of journalists around the world and demand the release of our unlawfully imprisoned US journalists, we may not have anyone around to tell the world about the next revolution, and we'll have no one to blame but ourselves.

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