America’s journalists -- from the largest national outlets in New York and D.C. to the tiny newspapers in rural towns throughout the country -- work hard to reveal the truth the public needs.
This vital function is widely on display during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Good reporters everywhere are putting in extra hours to separate fact from fiction. They’re staying on top of the latest information, and many are vigorously questioning government leaders about the decisions that affect us.
It’s all to help keep our communities informed and safe.
World Press Freedom Day -- established by the United Nations General Assembly in 1993 and observed annually on May 3 -- is a chance to celebrate the free press principles we enjoy in the United States.
Sadly, the media’s First Amendment rights in America do not exist in other parts of the world. That’s why World Press Freedom Day also serves as a reminder that publications in repressive countries are fined or shut down and journalists are jailed and even murdered for publishing truth about their governments.
That said, U.S. media aren’t immune to attacks on their freedom. The 2020 World Press Freedom Index, assembled by Reporters Without Borders and released in April, ranked the United States No. 45 out of 180 countries for press freedom. (Norway is No. 1. North Korea is No. 180.)
America’s ranking is actually up three notches compared to the 2019 index. Even so, Reporters Without Borders this year notes that arrests, physical assaults, public denigration and harassment of journalists still happen here.
“Much of that ire has come from President Trump and his associates in the federal government, who have demonstrated the United States is no longer a champion of press freedom at home or abroad,” the organization’s report says. “This dangerous anti-press sentiment has trickled down to local governments, institutions and the American public.”
So, how can you observe World Press Freedom Day?
First, tell a journalist you know “thank you” for their work to keep you informed. As a former newspaper editor, I can tell you newsrooms enjoy hearing the occasional encouraging word to balance out the complaint letters.
That’s not to say journalists oppose getting complaint letters, which leads me to my second point. If you disagree with or take exception to something reported in the press, speak up. Journalists want to hear you, especially if your points are well-reasoned and supported by verifiable facts. The First Amendment applies to you, too, after all. But, please, keep the vitriol and hate out of it. Despite what you see on social media, it is possible to express disagreement without personal attacks and threats.
And finally, you can commemorate this day by supporting the media organizations in your community. Buy a subscription. Patronize their advertisers. Or both. An investment in local media is an investment in your community.
Jason Piscia is an assistant professor and director of the Public Affairs Reporting program, a master’s degree curriculum that trains journalists to cover government and politics.
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