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Democracy and the free press

Journalists around the world, and that includes Bermuda, are these days challenged in trying to keep truth out front as their professional ethics demand. Misinformation flowing like a tidal wave via a maze of electronic systems crowding the airwaves can easily turn truth into a needle in a haystack. Without that needle, attempting to stitch together the true picture of a particular event can be a daunting undertaking, even for the best of journalists.

There are so many trouble spots on the planet where people are exposed daily to horrific conditions that have children frightened, and often dying of starvation, in a hopeless cycle of violence between heavily armed groups.

Police officers escort Cheung Kim-hung, centre, the chief executive and executive director of Next Digital Ltd at Apple Daily headquarters in Hong Kong. Fung Wai-kong, an editorial writer of the now-defunct Hong Kong pro-democracy newspaper Apple Daily, was arrested at the airport last Sunday night, while attempting to leave the city (File photograph by Kin Cheung/AP)

Many dedicated journalists in recent years have paid with their lives in their quest to expose evil power that operates with one objective: to stay in power at any cost.

As a result, the free press are targeted by all who seek to retain power without being questioned or criticised for activities that deprive people of their right to free speech on matters that affect their lives.

Under such conditions, democracy and the free press are seen as obstacles by some in powerful positions, which are too often achieved by crushing anyone along the way.

Such attitudes are not restricted to underdeveloped regions, but can be very present in much of the modern world, Including many of the leading nations.

Political power misused is usually the first step in declaring war on democracy and the free press because exposing truth is not a part of their agenda. When this happens in what should be a democratic system, alarm bells should sound to alert all that decency, freedom and truth are under attack — from even those who should be defenders of such values.

The free press will be always duty-bound to ask questions of political leaders whenever there is reason to suspect that a matter involving the people is not getting the attention it should. Journalists are neither judge nor jury in performing their professional duty. The truth is what they are charged with exposing in the basic interest of keeping people properly informed.

In a highly complex world, they will make mistakes — as all humans do — but that is no reason to shy away from their principle objective of leaving no stone unturned in getting at the truth.

When journalists are attacked anywhere, it is really an attack on all journalists. When Hong Kong was repossessed by China back in 1997, after being under British authority for 150 years, beneath the colourful military farewell ceremony, veteran observers knew life would change for all citizens of Hong Kong.

After expressing the hope in a glowing speech that the success of a thriving Hong Kong would continue, Chris Patten, the last Governor of Hong Kong, took his seat with an expression of emotion as the Hong Kong orchestra played the solemn strains of Edward Elgar’s Nimrod.

It would not take long for China to make it clear that no matter the system in place under the British, the island was now under new management. That new management would also take aim at the free press, who up until now had been operating as journalists do in all free countries.

A major news outlet with a large staff of professional journalists had its accounts frozen, which halted payments to staff. The owner was taken into custody and the newspaper, with limited unpaid staff, recently issued its final publication before closing.

It was a sad moment for what used to be an atmosphere where the free press and democracy seemed a part of Hong Kong life. It should be made clear that China, one of the world’s most powerful nations, was within its rights to implement a system in Hong Kong in line with mainland China. That story is far from over.

An important factor is that as the world watches, it should be a clear message that democracy and the free press should never be taken for granted anywhere. What happened in Hong Kong can happen anywhere when leaders drift from sound values to embrace devious tactics to maintain political power.

It happens in many countries, and protecting democracy and the free press will depend largely on the people remaining staying focused on ensuring their elected officials are honest, truthful and dedicated to serving the country.

This is why a proper voting process in any free country, must be protected in order to provide every citizen with a voice in affairs of the land.

The free press will always have a key role to play in helping to keep democracy alive. There are still many stories waiting to be told by those willing to seek truth no matter the price. Freedom is a priceless gift.

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Published July 03, 2021 at 8:00 am (Updated July 12, 2021 at 3:42 pm)

Democracy and the free press

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