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One Guy's Opinion - Journalistic Freedom

Journalism is under attack.

I mean this both figuratively and literally.

Literally in the event in Paris, France, where a dozen people at a publisher’s office were killed by extremists upset because the magazine satirized and characterized their prophet.

Literally in the massive computer hacking that stopped a major Hollywood studio, Sony, in its tracks for weeks and almost cancelled the release of a comedy film that North Korea objected to as it showed their supreme leader in a bad way. (Not to mention, the plot of the film was to attempt to assassinate said dictator.)

True, this second example may not strike one as being an attack on journalism, but it is in that it is an affront to the First Amendment ideas that journalism is built upon in our country.

Figuratively in that some people just don’t get it. And it’s the people who should know about the Freedom of the Press and don’t, or purposely ignore it, that worries me the most.

The first two literal examples are easy to define. No one should kill, threaten, etc., someone else for expressing opinions, even if they don’t agree with it. Even if they are offended by it. If we were to print books or make movies, keeping in mind that we can’t have a single offensive item in them is being offensive to anyone, we might as well print blank pages and shine a white light up on the screen.

There are ways to fight back on these issues. The first of which is to make sure that the offending material, so to speak, is seen by as many people as possible. Already today, the images that enraged the terrorists into killing are being seen by innumerably more people than would have seen it otherwise. Same with the movie that North Korea wanted banned and threatened war over.

The other way is to keep on expressing opinions and views. Write it. Show it. Sing it.

The second is less easy to define and deal with.

However, I offer up for an example the strange case of a county council member in Maryland who threatened to sue the local newspaper because they used his name in a story that concerned a public meeting that he was involved in – without his authorization.

Let that sink in. An elected public official honestly believed that a newspaper had to get his permission to use his name in an article.

Two lessons are to be learnt here.

First – he was wrong. So wrong that most people didn’t know where to begin to explain how wrong he was. The easiest points here are that 1) he is an elected, public official, 2) this was at a public meeting and the reporter apparently tried to contact him to follow up, and 3) following on points 1 and 2, the newspaper (or radio, or TV) has every right to use his name in reporting on the news. (I do wonder what he would have done if the local radio station had used his voice as part of a broadcast?)

 The second one is, and poor Mr. Kirby Delauter has really found this out the hard way, that in today’s world nothing is isolated. Recall a few paragraphs ago the note that the offending images and movie have now reached more people than they would have prior to the incidents? Yeah. Delauter has seen that happen on a far more personal level.

His story, and his name, have now made it into the Washington Post, National Public Radio, the BBC (yes, the British Broadcasting Corporation) and beyond. Links on Facebook and other social network sites have directed people by the thousands to articles on Delauter (sorry, just can’t stop using that name!) and, even better, the paper’s hilarious response to his empty threats.

There is this idea that someone can dictate (note the similarity there to “dictator”) what the free press can and can’t publish. The idea that the free press is free to publish seems to elude these people. And they’re the hardest ones to correct. (The term “bully” has been used to describe Kirby Delauter’s behavior. I think that’s apt.) They are hard to correct because they can see no wrong in what they are doing or demanding. “I said it shall be so and it shall be so!”

The real underlying issue remains, and in both cases. To put it as simply as I can, it is the idea that my freedom of speech exists only as long as you agree with what I have expressed. If you don’t, then you have the right to censor me. (Most also seem to add that this shall work in only one direction. We cannot censor those who want to censor us.)

However, as we’ve seen now, and more examples from the past than I can tell you about in this space, the only sure thing in these instances when someone tries to keep everyone else from seeing or reading something they don’t approve of is that everyone will want to see it. And, with the internet, everyone can see it.

It’s hard for North Korea to threaten everyone who downloaded the movie and watched it in their own homes.

And Mr. Delauter can’t sue everyone who has now used his name in some fashion of print.

Even me. (Goodnight, Mr. Delauter. Wherever you are!)