Opinion

Attacks on the press are a threat to your freedom. Here’s how you can help

You are reading this news source because access to information is important to you. Knowledge drives our decision-making, our economy and our democracy. Without the free flow of information, we would be a different — and diminished — nation.

While the United States has traditionally served as a beacon for press freedom, it is with troubling regularity that news media professionals face many dangers today, putting your right to know at risk.

Reporters are verbally harassed both on- and offline simply for doing their jobs. Efforts to obtain and report on public records that the people have a legal right to see meet denials from government officials, who too often also seek to shut journalists out of meetings and courtrooms. Legal threats and lawsuits aim to intimidate journalists into silence, stop publication of their stories and bankrupt them or their employers.

Physical danger is on the rise, too: At least 30 reporters have been attacked so far this year.

Every day, journalists must weigh these threats against gathering and reporting the news. If they can’t do their jobs, the loss suffered is real, and it is suffered by the public at large, which is denied knowledge on a range of issues that affect our ability to govern ourselves in a complex world.

It is amid this climate that the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press was particularly concerned when our research showed that more than half of voters believe our free press faces little threat or no threat at all. But there was also hope: Nearly all voters — 95% — agreed on the importance of having a free press.

One thing was abundantly clear: Too many of us are missing the signs that the information we clearly value, and those who deliver it to us, are more vulnerable than we realize.

That is why we have joined forces with the Committee to Protect Journalists and a coalition of other press freedom organizations to launch a national campaign featuring print, digital, broadcast, radio and social media news sources. We aim to spark a conversation about press freedom and encourage people to stand up for their right to information.

Access to accurate information is essential to understanding and participating in our communities and the world around us. Whether you read, watch or listen to your news, we all rely on these diverse sources of knowledge that constitute our free press to help us make informed choices and shape the future of our nation every day.

In just the last few years, we have seen the value of this fundamental American freedom revealed in reporting that has shed light on important national issues such as the opioid epidemic and the full picture of use of force incidents by local police. Journalism has held government institutions accountable for failing to initially account fully for natural disaster deaths. It has elevated the voices of sexual abuse victims some sought to silence and more.

It is in places without a strong free press supported by the people that stories like these and others end up incomplete — or go untold entirely. That is why in our nation, whose our founders designed the Constitution specifically to protect the free flow of information, we must do more to prevent the wide range of threats that our news media faces from continuing to slowly erode their ability to continue to deliver the information we need.

Whether it is subscribing to your local news outlets, sharing stories about the issues that are important to you or speaking up in support of your right to know when you see it threatened — whether the attack is large or small, against you or someone else — it takes action on the part of all of us to ensure the freedom we value endures. Because to be truly free, we must be informed.

Bruce D. Brown is the executive director of the Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press. To learn more about the threats to press freedom and how you can protect your right to know, visit ProtectPressFreedom.org.

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