Freedom of Speech vs. Journalism

The term ‘Press freedom‘ encompasses so many different aspects, from the right to free speech to the protection of journalists in conflict situations. Freedom of speech remains debated between news organisations and political and social groups. Should press freedom allow journalists to report on what they wish or are journalists exercising freedom of speech too liberally?

The World Press Freedom Committee (WPFC) has been fighting against journalist licensing and mandatory regulations for 30 years and has expressed the need for the freedom of the press to be open and understood. It has reported on the restrictions on the press, especially in regions of Zimbabwe and North Korea where most of the media outlets are a monopoly of Government control and there are very few independent journalists. However, this is not just restricted to journalist control. As a recent example, a Zimbabwean man was arrested after questioning if Mugabe had enough strength to blow out his birthday candles, celebrating his 88th birthday. This was overheard by Mugabe loyalists and the carpenter was arrested. If this power is exercised over a civilian who was not expressing his views via the internet or any other resources then what does this mean for journalists?

In terms of journalist protection, laws typically seem to be behind in their efforts. When you accept a journalist position, one must be aware of the risks which you may be exposed to. With journalists out reporting in conflict situations and war zones, protection must be insured. However, several countries are behind in their legislature and eventual changes. Mexico has only recently approved constitutional changes which make attacks on journalists a federal crime. An article in The Guardian has detailed how attacks on journalists in the region are rarely investigated, let alone brought before a court.

While the protection of journalists is an utmost priority, press freedom and freedom of speech has found itself debated over the years. This could simply be put down to a selection of individuals who have written articles in bad taste or express unappreciated views but ultimately it risks reflecting negatively on the industry.

One UK example is Jan Moir’s opinion piece in the Daily Mail, published in 2009. She was addressing the recent death of Boyzone member Stephen Gately, who died of pulmonary oedema resulting from an undiagnosed heart condition. However, Moir caused great controversy and backlash over her article entitled “A strange, lonely and troubling death….”. Accused of making broad accusations, she wrote about Stephen Gately’s homosexuality and the interpretation by readers was that she was linking his death to his sexual orientation. She wrote:

“The sugar coating on this fatality is so saccharine-thick that it obscures whatever bitter truth lies beneath. Healthy and fit 33-year-old men do not just climb into their pyjamas and go to sleep on the sofa, never to wake up again.

Moir later addressed the controversy surrounding her piece in an additional article but many took to social networking sites and wrote in to the Daily Mail to complain about Moir’s insensitive comments. Many discussion arose concerning the regulations of journalists and many became angered at the Daily Mail for allowing Moir to write about her views without access to the truth.

Press freedom is very broad and will always provoke discussion and debate among journalists, industries and readers. Protection of journalists has been an ignored and repressed subject, especially with independent journalists being at risk every day in certain regions. However, the regulations of journalists have been in question, especially in Jan Moir’s case. Should there be certain topics which journalists should be discouraged from writing about? Or should press freedom reign free to allow them to express their views in a powerful industry?

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One Comment to “Freedom of Speech vs. Journalism”

  1. Greetings! This is my first comment here so I just wanted to give a quick shout out and say I genuinely enjoy reading your posts. Can you recommend any other blogs/websites/forums that cover the same topics? Thanks a lot!

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