Opinion: Editorial: Freedom of the Press, Friend of Democracy

Opinion: Editorial: Freedom of the Press, Friend of Democracy

Under attack, abroad and now at home.

First Amendment

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.

The press is protected in the U.S. Constitution by name in the First Amendment. The founders recognized the key role that newspapers would play as watchdogs for all layers of government, a key ingredient in a successful democracy. Newspapers have played that role well.

Newspapers have been under assault by technological and economic forces for years. Some of the harm done to government and the public good when newspapers close was documented in recent study, “Financing Dies in Darkness? The Impact of Newspaper Closures on Public Finance.”

But now newspapers and other news outlets are facing for the first time a sustained attack from the 45th President of the United States.

It is the role of the President of the United States historically to inspire the American people by words and actions. This president has hammered away at the press in general and reporters specifically.

Today we join hundreds of other newspapers to identify the danger involved when the leader of the free world invokes the language of dictators and authoritarian rulers in attacking the credibility of the press, referring to it as “the enemy of the people,” Calling our work “fake news.” There are many nastier quotes that we choose not to repeat here.

The editorial board of Boston Globe made a national call to action for all newspaper editorial boards — both large and small, rural, suburban and metro — across the country to publish a coordinated response to the president's "enemy of the people" rhetoric today, Aug. 16. "We propose to publish an editorial on Aug. 16 on the dangers of the administration's assault on the press and ask others to commit to publishing their own editorials on the same date," the Globe editorial board wrote.

Journalism is a dangerous occupation in many other countries, usually not here in the U.S.

But the fear local journalists feel increased close to home here after the murders of five in the newsroom of the Capital Gazette in Annapolis recently.

One member of Connection Newspapers staff is Kemal Kurspahic, who shares with us his first-hand experience of running a newspaper from a war zone when information was desperately needed by the besieged residents of Sarajevo. Kurspahic is managing editor for The Connection Newspapers. He was the editor-in-chief of the Bosnian daily Oslobodjenje in Sarajevo, Bosnia Herzegovina, 1988-94. Under his leadership the paper published every day from the atomic bomb shelter below Oslobodjenje’s shelled skeleton of a building during the siege of Sarajevo.

He was critically injured himself when a vehicle taking him to his newsroom crashed as it traveled at high speed down “sniper alley.” The International Press Institute named Kurspahic one of its first 50 World Press Freedom Heroes in 2000.

Here at Local Media Connection, we are unified in our mission to benefit the community. We are blessed to work in a place where we know violence is rare, and our efforts are more often appreciated that cursed. We won the 2016 Virginia Press Association Award for Journalistic Integrity and Community Service, the Virginia Press Association’s highest award, for coverage and editorials leading to police reform in Fairfax County.

We last won the award in 2011 "for exhaustive coverage of homelessness in the newspaper's circulation area." First place for “in depth and investigative reporting” went to our series on teen sex trafficking. We’ve focused on efforts to feed hungry children right here. We feature good works by members of the community in our 15 papers every week. We’re fighting the good fight in the face of devastating economic forces, changes in advertising patterns and huge newsprint increases.

We shouldn’t have to fear thinly veiled calls for violence and hatred from the leader of our nation.

— Mary Kimm