Today Monday June 5, 2017, the famous international museum of news located in Washington DC is drawing the blinds on its popular “Today’s Front Pages” exhibits along Pennsylvania Avenue. Newseum is also giving the world a blackout on its “Today’s Front Pages” website, for the whole day. This award-wining museum that is solely dedicated to free expression and the five freedoms of the First Amendment to the United States constitution, is leading a social media campaign to “raise awareness of the threats to journalists around the world, encouraging people to consider what their world would be like without journalists to bring them the news.” Today marks the third anniversary of the #WithoutNews campaign, which was started in 2014.
News does not reach us independent of the people who scout for reports, stories and analyses— the freelancers, stringers, professional reporters, photographers, news anchors, editors and media creators. It is important to know that press freedom is nonexistent in countries like North Korea, and is barely protected in countries like Iraq. Journalists and media practitioners are imperiled and their lives and safety are openly at stake. But so is our access to news from conflict-zones and difficult-to-reach places worldwide.
How did Karun Misra die in India, and Joȃo Miranda do Carmo in Brazil? What about Sagal Salad Osman in Somalia, Mohammed Marwan al-Issa in Syria and Pavel Sheremet in Ukraine? Today they are all gone forever, but only after they enriched our lives with stories that will nourish our world forever. These heroic souls will not be forgotten as Newseum will today etch their names among 14 journalists from around, who lost their lives in pursuit of news in 2016. Visitors to Newseum will henceforth find the names of these martyrs of freedom among the list of 2,305 men and women victims, on a historical register dating back to 1837. The Journalists Memorial is a galaxy of glass panes displaying the names and portraits of these fallen heroes, which adorn a two-story wall in this magnificent museum.
We all consume news and express our views, and we love to bask in these multilayered freedoms of speech, press, expression and access to truth and facts, via the dogged agency of journalists and media personnel. The fate of purity of our dietary rations in news and reports, and our best antidote to fake news lies in our support for journalists who put their life and safety at stake, toward ensuring that we are not kept deaf and dark in besotted ignorance. As much as fake news remains a scourge that threatens the noble profession of journalism and public access to genuine news, governments and organizations that aim to checkmate the crisis should never go close to smothering free press. Nothing is more a faux than an incomplete story— which is the cheap spinoff of muzzled press. Dissenting voice is not same as counterfeit or noise.
As members of a common society, we must recognize the civic mandate of journalists to work at the juncture of our rights to know the facts, and their desire to hand it over to us. Journalists must freely fly to Jupiter and reach the ocean bottoms in pursuit of news, and safely for that. Only last week Newseum took custody of the broken eyeglasses of The Guardian’s reporter, Ben Jacobs, who was assaulted by a would-be congressman from Montana. The glasses will now form part of the collections of modern-day testimony to threat to press freedom.
To appreciate the significance of Ben’s pair of glasses as a museum exhibit, imagine looking at the broken screen of your Smartphone that was smashed by law enforcement officers you had attempted to photograph while they harassed a minor. Another way to construe the threat to press freedom is to imagine that you are banned from visiting all your favorite social networks, and denied access to any newspaper, radio or TV outlet for 24 hours. Before you cry blind spots! Just remember that this is what it is like, to live in a world #withoutnews!