Journalists like to tell the story; they do not like to become the story.
Unfortunately, during the past several months, journalists have been thrust into the spotlight under tragic circumstances. Around the world, journalists are putting themselves in harm’s way to report on some of the most important stories of our time and, sadly, the results have been horrific.
In August, the gruesome and senseless murder of James Foley stunned the world. His death was a vivid and painful reminder of the risks journalists take when reporting from conflict zones. Since 2011, 66 journalists have died in Syria alone and another 30 are missing, according to the Committee to Protect Journalists. This is not acceptable.
Only a few weeks after James Foley’s death, we were shocked and appalled by the murder of journalist Steven Sotloff. As with Foley, a video showed the beheading of Sotloff, the second American journalist killed by ISIS.
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The murders remind us of the dangers journalists face in seeking the truth, and reporting those truths to us. Reporting from the front lines, they shed light on the darkness of war.
We can only hope that these tragedies will raise awareness about the importance of protecting journalists and freedom of the press. These are the men and women who ensure the public knows what’s happening in their neighborhoods and across the globe.
Foley and Sotloff lost their lives because they believed finding and delivering the truth was worth the enormous risk. We will never forget their contributions to the public’s knowledge and the craft of journalism.
This month, Foley will be honored at a service on the campus of the University of New Hampshire. His family announced the launch of the James W. Foley Legacy Fund to preserve his legacy and promote his ideals among future generations. The fund will seek to aid American journalists from conflict zones and contribute to quality educational opportunities for urban youth.
While these horrific acts of violence have drawn enormous attention, there are still many journalists at risk every day. In August, we celebrated when American journalist Peter Theo Curtis was released from captivity. However, we must remember he was kidnapped and held in Syria for nearly two years.
This spring, two reporters – Anja Niedringhaus of The Associated Press and Nils Horner of Sveriges Radio – were killed in Afghanistan. In April, the Newspaper Association of America endorsed an Inter-American Press Association resolution condemning the violation of human rights in Venezuela, where more than 100 reporters have been arrested or threatened, or become the victims of violence this year
These are sobering reminders of the world we live in and the lengths to which journalists go to report the news.
They believe the free flow of information is a key tenet of democracy and freedom. Without understanding what is going on, we cannot make sense of world events, or hold leaders accountable.
To maintain this freedom, we must protect our courageous reporters and their news gathering processes – at home and abroad.
As a nation, we are collectively focused on responding to terrorist threats and protecting those abroad, as we should be. But we must not forget to protect our reporters at home as well.
The free flow of information through journalists gives the public the opportunity and responsibility to understand their communities, their country and the world. With understanding comes the power to shape those communities. At the Newspaper Association of America, we have been fighting for a media shield law, known as the Free Flow of Information Act. The bill sailed through the Senate Judiciary Committee with bipartisan support last year, but has yet to receive a full vote on the Senate floor.
Americans should make protection of their right to know a priority. If we don’t protect journalists at home trying to learn what governments and others don’t want us to know, it will remain ever secret. We honor those journalists who are killed, missing, threatened or held captive; all working in a field critical for our democracy.