Jun 8, 2007 10:37 pm


As I was reading the paper today, it suddenly occurred to me that journalists are the most altruistic, self sacrificing and objective professionals I know. Search as you might, you will not find any positive correlation between the way they are treated and tenor of their reporting. Indeed, the opposite is true. They seem to be enamored with those who hate the free press from Communists to Islamists and reserve their wrath to democracies. You may call it self-hatred, ideological blindness or sheer stupidity. I merely note the phenomenon.

It is difficult to find countries that enjoy better press than Cuba or Hugo Chavez' Venezuela not to mention the Palestinians. Still, the recent Reporters Without Borders issues its 2007 annual press freedom survey lists Cuba along with North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan as the worst violators of freedom of the press. Hugo Chavez is reportedly After closing RCTV, Chávez goes on offensive against sole remaining opposition TV station and the BBC newsman, Alan Johnston, famous for his pro-Palestinians bias is being held hostage. (Brett Stephens argues that the bias was strategic. BBC blogger disagrees.)

If you noticed a rash of negative articles about Cuba, Venezuela or Gaza (I do not mean about Israel refusing to take rocket bombardments in stride) do let me know. As for North Korea, Eritrea and Turkmenistan, they are located on the dark side of the moon as far as the press is concerned. Nor do Russia, China or Iran have to put up with the kind of press hostility the US and Israel do.

Indeed, the annual Reporters Without Borders report begins by equating dictatorships that persecute reporters and democracies that do not protect them well enough from that prosecution.

“The report lists the worst violations in repressive countries, including major culprits North Korea, Eritrea, Cuba and Turkmenistan, but also looks at democracies, where progress needs to be made too,.” the organization says.

“A disturbingly record number of journalists and media workers were killed or thrown in prison around the world in 2006 and we are already concerned about 2007, as six journalists and four media assistants have been killed in January alone,” the report’s introduction says.

“But beyond these figures is the alarming lack of interest (and sometimes even failure) by democratic countries in defending the values they are supposed to incarnate."

I guess there is a weird logic to their thinking. Communists, Islamists and non ideological tyrants do not pretend to support press freedom. So, their persecution of reporters is to be expected. But as democracies do claim to support free press, they can be charged with disloyalty to their stated principles. If so, what are we to make of the very next paragraph?

Almost everyone believes in human rights these days but amid the silences and behavior on all sides, we wonder who now has the necessary moral authority to make a principled stand in favor of these freedoms.”

Does that mean that Communists, Islamists and non ideological tyrants are included in the"almost everyone" and, hence, they too betray their stated ideals? No, our good reporters would not wish you to reach that conclusion. It would unbalance their carefully constructed disinterested stance. But wait, there is an even weirder accusation.

The publication by a Danish newspaper of cartoons of the Prophet Mohamed focused the world’s attention in 2006 on the issue of freedom of expression and respect for religious beliefs. Democratic countries did not defend Denmark, whose embassies were attacked, or the journalists who were threatened and arrested. Europe especially seemed to choose silence for fear of offending Arab or Muslims regimes.

Note, the reporters do not condemn Imams for issuing fatwas encouraging the killing of the cartoonists. They do not condemn the Organization of Islamic Countries or its member countries for stalking the anti-Danish fires AND using their influence to pressure individual governments and, indeed, the EU as a whole, to place limits on the freedom of the press. Nor do they praise the Danish government's refusal to succumb to the organized Muslim pressure and limit Danish press freedom.

The reporters do not praise the relatively meager number of European publications brave enough to demonstrate their solidarity with the cartoonists by republishing them or denounce the editors which failed to do so.

They even ignore the mass cowardice of the American press as evidenced in their failure to republish the cartoons (with the exception of the Philadelphia Inquirer). They had no harsh words for the bookstores which refused to carry a journal which did republish the cartoons or the universities which insisted that their students discuss the cartoons without having them displayed.

Who incurs their wrath? Democratic European governments for doing what reporters routinely do," choosing silence" or, indeed, bending over backward not to offend Communists, tyrannies and Arab or Muslim regimes. As I began, reporters are true altruist and, I, for one, believe that in the future they will get their just desert - plenty of opportunities to sacrifice their life, liberty and happiness on the alter of promoting their natural enemies.

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More Comments:

Dennis Slough - 7/5/2007

Give us more "dog bites man stories." PLEASE!

Richard Landes - 5/31/2007

nice connection between the intellectual fecklessness of moral equivalence and cowardice. i think it has something to do with response theory: criticize those who openly despise press freedom that they're bad, and they'll laugh (or spit) in your face. tell dedicated democracies that they're bad, and they're likely to take you seriously. why talk to the wall?