Editorial: Protect our right to know

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Thomas Jefferson may have said it best: “Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost.”

Last week one individual tried to limit that freedom by trying to convince some of our newspaper distributors that you should not have seen the photograph on the front page of your community newspaper.

Was the photo depicting a hateful or gory incident? Did it violate community standards of decency?

No. It showed Salt Spring firefighters with the Jaws of Life trying to help that individual’s husband, who was trapped in his plane following a hard landing on his private airstrip. It had news value because it was not something that is seen every day and involved a public service agency in action. It was not unlike our July 29 front-page photo of emergency services personnel aiding a fallen cyclist. In neither photo was the victim even visible nor identified.

Do not believe that because this incident took place on private property rather than a public road that it should not have been reported in this newspaper. The fire department, ambulance and RCMP members who attended are all funded by taxpayers. Aviation incidents of any kind are also a matter of public interest and investigated by the Transportation Safety Board of Canada, a federal body funded by taxpayers.

If the pilot had died, the story would have been covered by major media outlets. How successful would attempts to suppress the story have been in that case? Thankfully he did not die.

Allegations made to store owners and managers that the photo — which was provided to the paper by Salt Spring Fire Rescue on request — should not have been published without permission because the incident occurred on private property and was “illegal” are uninformed nonsense. While people’s compassion for the woman’s state of mind last Wednesday is understandable, it should not have resulted in the public’s lack of easy access to the newspaper, which contained many more items besides the front-page photo.

One individual or company or government agency must not be given the ability to suppress public news gathered and reported in a responsible manner. When that day comes, freedom of the press has been irreparably damaged. We must be vigilant to ensure that is not allowed to happen.

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