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Journalism critical in saving democracy

Brave journalists from around the world putting their lives at risk in an age of modern communication technology, armed with cameras and microphones, were able to convey first-hand the horrors of war when Russia launched an attack on Ukraine, a peaceful democratic nation.

A man holds a baby after being evacuated from Irpin at a triage point in Kyiv, Ukraine, yesterday. A large-scale evacuation operation of residents of a satellite area of capital Kyiv continued, with more and more people deciding to leave areas now under Russian control (Photograph by Vadim Ghirda/AP)

Before Russian forces acted under orders from Vladimir Putin, world leaders from many countries tried unsuccessfully to persuade the Russian president to refrain from invading a country that In no way threatened him.

News organisations monitoring what they knew could be an event that could result in a large death toll also knew to get a clear picture of what would be happening on the ground — experienced journalists would need to gather information on the scene, despite risk to their safety.

Meanwhile, many of us in the comfort of our homes were able to view through their pictures the explosions and fires as Russian bombs and missiles slammed into areas of Ukraine, including residential units. It became clear that what was unfolding would be more than just a brief military clash.

This was nothing short of war. In war, people on both sides die.

Putin seemed in no mood to respond to calls to halt the invasion. After weeks of placing his troops on the Ukrainian border with a massive military build-up, it was obvious he intended to crush a democratic country that had openly expressed its wish to become a member of the Nato alliance comprising European countries that are committed to protecting each other against any type of aggression.

In democracy, the role of the free press is essential because journalism exists to be a sharp eye in defending truth and justice, even if it means exposing their own governments when wrongdoing is detected.

Democracy depends on the free press to help in protecting basic human rights for all, even when sensitive issues with political undertones are often kept away from the front burners of public discussion.

In dictatorial regimes — and Russia seems to fit clearly in that category — people can be arrested and thrown behind bars should they display disapproval of government policy. The right to peacefully protest, and we stress peacefully, should be a basic human right anywhere on Earth.

As a humanitarian nightmare unfolded in Ukraine, with more than one million people including women and children and the elderly fleeing for their lives, there were thousands of protesters in Russia who took to the streets to display disapproval of the invasion. Again, through cameras, the world watched an old woman simply holding a banner in protest being taken into custody by Russian police.

An old woman holding a banner! Unbelievable!

However, that is what happens when dictatorial powers crush the basic human right of expression, unless it is in their favour. With reaction opposing Putin’s decision gathering global momentum, he tried to halt the spread of truth by clamping down on the free press — banning various members of the foreign media from operating on Russian soil.

In a world with unlimited communication technology, the Russian people knew what was happening, and many decided to risk arrest to let the world know that not every Russian wanted war.

The world’s free press, with countless brave journalists, stepped up to the plate and disregarded the risk in order to relay to the world how Ukrainians were being killed for wanting a country that respected democracy and the right of free expression.

Throughout history, journalists have often paid with their lives in difficult situations to keep truth alive. It is a demanding profession, but those who choose this field of work are fully aware that their work will bother only those with something to hide.

Through the eyes of brave journalists, the world was able to not only witness but also hear the cries of women and children torn from their normal peaceful lives as they scrambled to board trains to seek safety in other lands. Some were even killed by Russian bombs in the process.

With much of the country in smoking ruins, the Ukrainian president Volodymyr Zelensky was defiant that Ukraine would never surrender to Putin’s demands.

Wars large or small always leave a trail of humanitarian damage that often takes generations to heal, if at all.

Without the role of the free press, with journalists committed to defending human rights and the dignity of living free with justice, democracy will be under threat from those who operate as though they are above all laws.

If and when the dust settles on the Ukraine tragedy, a number of legal scholars are convinced that there is sufficient evidence to bring about an indictment in connection with war crimes. Whether or not that occurs, the role of journalism will be key, as well as a warning that democracy should never be taken for granted.

Here in Bermuda we have a beautiful island that most of us are proud of despite social challenges throughout our history. Our future will depend on how well we focus on values of respect and dignity in preserving our democracy. Nothing should be taken for granted and the free press will have a role to play in that.

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Published March 12, 2022 at 7:31 am (Updated March 12, 2022 at 7:31 am)

Journalism critical in saving democracy

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