Editorial: Freedom at stake

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Now, more than ever, press freedom and respect is critical.

In light of President Donald Trump’s “war on the press,” the Boston Globe has called on newspapers in its country to publish editorials in response on Aug. 16. While we are not part of the United States, the recent rhetoric expressed by the president to discredit the media in his country affects everyone privileged to live in a democracy.

Trump is calling from a frightening playbook, which Italian writer Umberto Eco detailed in a 1995 essay titled Ur-Fascism. That piece and summaries of it have been appropriately making the rounds on the internet these days.

Some of the characteristics of fascist regimes Eco describes are an appeal to social frustration, fear of difference, taking action for action’s sake and, most applicable to the topic of press freedom, that disagreement is treason. In Trump’s world, to disagree with his actions or statements, which a free press facilitates, is akin to committing treason.

Unfortunately, as people who lived through past totalitarian and fascist regimes in the western world are aging and dying, we are losing touch with how terrible it can be to live without the freedom of expression, thought and belief, and a free and open media.

These are indeed frightening times for the civilized world and democracy as we know it.

No one relishes reading critical words about themselves, and politicians are no exception. But they must accept that in a democracy, people charged with the immense responsibility of governing others and spending voters’ tax money must be open to being publicly criticized about their conduct. They must truthfully answer questions posed to them by the media on behalf of the public. First and foremost, the media serves the public, as should politicians.

Walter Lippmann, an American journalist and political commentator of the last century, famously stated, “The theory of the free press is not that the truth will be presented completely or perfectly in any one instance, but that the truth will emerge from free discussion.”

When the freedom to publicly criticize the conduct of a politician or a government body through an independent media is threatened, so too is both truth and democracy.

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