Free press and public discussion
“Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter,” Thomas Jefferson famously wrote to his friend.
Perhaps, the best quotes about free press being the hallmark of democracy have already been said, oft-repeated or reinvented with their core essence remaining intact. We pull them out of the quotes inventory and refresh them each time the First Amendment is assailed. Time and again, the press is being challenged and defended. In the Trump era, this has become a regular routine.
Twitter has become a battlefield and President Trump’s attack post, from where he constantly fires a salvo of taunts at the Fourth Branch, which he calls “the enemy of the people” and the editors, reporters and other media people who are, “very dangerous and sick.”
“Criticizing the news media — for underplaying or overplaying stories, for getting something wrong — is entirely right,” the New York Times wrote in its Aug. 15 editorial. “News reporters and editors are human, and make mistakes. Correcting them is core to our job. But insisting that truths you don’t like are ‘fake news’ is dangerous to the lifeblood of democracy. And calling journalists the ‘enemy of the people’ is dangerous, period.”
The New York Times is among the more than 350 U.S. media organizations that published editorials— coordinated by the Boston Globe but written by each outlet— denouncing the presidential “war against the free press."
"The press is neither the enemy of the people nor its ally, but rather its possession," The Atlantic said in its editorial titled, “The Freedom of the Press is Yours.” In the same vein, the Valencia County News-Bulletin in Belen, New Mexico, wrote, “We are not the enemy of the people; we are the people.”
While the Pacific islands media may be outside of Trump’s firing zone, the journalism industry in this part of the world has its own battle to fight.
Suppression of free speech is most blatant in Nauru, whose government has zero-tolerance for dissent. In July, the Nauruan government banned the Australia Broadcasting Corp. from entering the country “under any circumstances,” citing the organization’s “blatant interference in Nauru’s domestic politics prior to the 2016 election, harassment of and lack of respect toward our president in Australia, false and defamatory allegations against members of our government, and continued biased and false reporting about our country.”
Elsewhere in the Micronesia region, where some of the small independent publications are run by expats, journalists are forced to keep themselves in check. A couple of years ago, FSM has set a precedent for declaring a journalist persona non grata.
In Palau, a foreign journalist was threatened with deportation some years ago for her hard-hitting stories involving the administration. The editor of one of our partner publications in another island is faced with the dilemma of exposing the labor abuse perpetrated by an influential group and “protecting me and my family.” He confessed, “it’s causing me great pain for those people who are suffering. It’s despicable and I feel helpless.”
Attacks on the press are particularly threatening to small independent publications that struggle to survive amid the industry’s economic uncertainty. Guam, though a U.S. territory supposedly protected by First Amendment, is not immune to such reality. Given the small market, where there is a thin line between business and government, operating a media outlet is much more challenging locally.
I’ve seen this many times when I was editor of the now-defunct Marianas Variety-Guam, which for more than 10 years operated on survival mode because the then publisher, Amier Younis, refused, repeatedly and rightfully, to succumb to the pressure of advertisers.
And now running my own self-funded publication, the painful economic aspect of journalism becomes even more real and personal. Recently, a certain advertiser pulled the rug under my feet. They cancelled their already signed contract following the Pacific Island Times’ publication of an article they conveniently called “fake news.”
Despite these challenges, the Pacific Island Times—now going on its second year— is determined to hold out for as long as it can.
“Public discussion is a political duty,” the New York Times editorial writes, citing a 1964 Supreme Court decision, “That discussion must be ‘uninhibited, robust, and wide-open,’ and ‘may well include vehement, caustic and sometimes unpleasantly sharp attacks on government and public officials.’”
In reality, free press exists, but there may be consequences. Just the same, we will continue telling the story and exploring the truth. We are not your enemy. We are your neighbors committed to upholding the principles of democracy.
Mar-Vic Cagurangan is the publisher and editor-in-chief of the Pacific Island Times. Send feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org