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Truth to tell



If you’re in the UK and you had a vote yesterday in the local elections, we hope you used it. We owe it to our children and grandchildren to express a view in a lawful way. Freedom of the press, freedom of speech and association are principles which have been hard won. We dare not ignore them.  I thought about this last Sunday as the customer in front of me paid for his newspaper: I hope he doesn’t believe everything he reads in that paper! It was an unworthy thought. I suppose he might have thought the same if he’d spotted the broadsheet in my hand.


But the influence of the media is such an important topic! Today Friday 3 May is designated by UNESCO World Press Freedom Day. Why do we need one? Why should it matter to us? Basically, because the less we know, the more corruption the powerful people can get away with. Some media and their readers are interested more in entertaining stories regardless of their veracity; a minority is concerned with at least trying to get to the truth about our complicated and often confusing world. The good thing is that despite the majority of the British media being controlled by right-leaning news organisations, our newsagent still has a choice of titles covering a spectrum of issues and a wide range of opinion.


There are corrupt politicians and governments that want to gain or retain power by concealing inconvenient truths from us. Our own country is not exempt. Here and in many places elsewhere there are elections in the coming year. Constant media reports telling of irresponsible and unattributed use of social media suggest that the list of people who could care whether little about whether they win by fair means or foul, is getting longer.


There are corporations which want to satisfy their shareholders by maximising profits often at the expense of the marginal people who have few ways of defending their own interests. The indigenous peoples of the world whose land sits on valuable resources see their homes and livelihoods destroyed by greedy multinationals with an eye only to profit. There are powerful industrial groups who care little for damage to the environment if land and sea can yield profitable raw materials.


There are governments which will stop at nothing to prevent opponents from questioning the official state narrative. Alexei Navalny is just one courageous recent case in point of one who gave his life for the cause of truth.


And then there is the immense power of organised crime which recognises absolutely no rules about the dignity of human life. Anyone who gets in the way of their greed is silenced.


Holding all these groups to account is the work of good journalists who go to dangerous places at home and abroad and try to report honestly what they see.  Supporting them is vital to our democracy. We often only know about the horrors inflicted on minorities thanks to the bravery of journalists. According to one news outlet “no war has killed so many journalists so quickly” as the war in Gaza, mostly Palestinian. In 2023 a total of 99 reporters are confirmed to have lost their lives worldwide in the business of reporting from dangerous places. And we should not forget the editors who face difficult decisions as to whether to publish, and who may also pay a high price both personal and professional for doing so.


All of this becomes even more important in a world where most people get their information from online sources which are not subject to serious scrutiny for their truthfulness. The battle against fake news and various forms of disinformation is fought by people who take risks. They may pay with their lives but will more often be subject to online personal abuse and intimidation.


Press freedom is part of the whole fragile plant of democratic freedom maintained with incorruptible justice and supporting democracy. Without it, we descend into anarchy or repression of various sorts. We must hang on to the possibility of knowing the truth about what is happening!


 

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