Monday, April 20, 2009

Media Complicity and the Bravery of the Independent Journalist

Many have now heard about the plight of Roxana Saberi and her recent espionage conviction handed down by the contemptible Iranian authorities. To sum things up for those who may not know, Ms. Saberi is a person of dual citizenship, born and raised in Fargo, North Dakota but also a citizen of Iran. She is an independent reporter who has worked for several news organizations and has been living in Iran for the last six years. In January 2009 she was arrested on charges having nothing to do with espionage and in April 2009 she was convicted of spying for the United States of America and then sentenced to 8 years in prison. All this was done behind closed doors, in secret proceedings, with no one except government approved persons there to witness exactly how this determination was made. The entire episode is very questionable and suspicious indeed.

Ms. Saberi is just the latest in a long line of brave journalists to be jailed worldwide. Their stories are inspiring and harrowing as they attempt to bring information to the masses from places where the powerful keep a tight control on information and determine what is allowed to be released to the public and what is not. More frightening still are the members of the press who have been killed or attacked throughout the years. These are men and women who are simply trying to inform the public as to the reality of world events. While some are victims of the very events they are covering, becoming casualties of the chaos which is the nature of some of the conflicts they may be reporting on, others die under mysterious or coincidental circumstances that make one wonder.

There is not, in my opinion, enough media coverage of these journalists who have been unjustly imprisoned either by their own governments or by powerful groups that might be at odds with authorities currently recognized as the ruling faction in a geopolitical area. It seems to me that anyone who would jail a journalist would do so only because they have something to hide, something they don’t want reported. It is not hard to imagine that every government is corrupt at some level, even (or especially) those governments who claim to be ordained by God and implementing his divine law. It is also not hard to imagine that any group desiring to rule over others are equally corruptible. The morality of forcing people to live by your set of rules and values is dubious at best and oft times despicable. The ordinary people of the world, those who do their best to survive and produce and try to achieve a better life, deserve to be informed and to have their voices heard. That is the job of the principled journalist.

It seems to me that when a journalist is jailed or murdered the rest of the media should be not only reporting on the event, but should start digging deep into the stories that reporter was working on and try to determine if they had a lead into something that could precipitate a dangerous reaction from the powerful or if they had recently angered some powerful official. I realize that individual journalists may be hesitant to investigate for fear of retribution, but fear is something we must overcome if we are to expose the hidden truths that drive events. This fear could be easily alleviated if the giant media corporations which provide public access to most of the world’s information would fund and encourage such investigations, but that does not seem to happen. Perhaps this is because the most powerful mainstream media operations work hand in hand with corporate governments worldwide and do not want the sources of their power exposed. This makes being a principled independent journalist a very dangerous career indeed, for not only do you have to worry about possible retribution from some very powerful entity, but without any powerful or politically connected organization to back you up there is little hope for salvation should accusations be made against you by public officials. Is it any wonder so much corruption remains so hidden in all governments?

Those in power will often use “national security reasons” as an excuse to keep information from public scrutiny. This is, of course, a catchall excuse as those in power actually get to decide what constitutes a breach of national security. In other words, if a leader decides that an op/ed writer criticizing his foreign policy constitutes a breach of national security that op/ed writer can be arrested, imprisoned and then secretly tried and convicted and the general public will only know that this particular writer was considered a threat to national security. This control can only be broken when the truth is found and disseminated to the populace. Until and unless secret trials are stopped all over the world (including in my country, the United States of America), we will be dependent upon brave independent journalists who are willing to risk their freedoms and their very lives to reveal the depths of corruption in political systems everywhere.

Ms. Saberi was convicted of espionage and I wonder what story she was working on or who she may have angered that made such a conviction necessary. I wonder what information she might have that could embarrass the powers that be in Iran. I have no resources to find this out for myself and so I must depend on the work of the mainstream media or another independent outlet for that information. If such discoveries were often made and if those in power had reason to believe they would be held accountable for their actions, then maybe such unjust activities would cease.

Of course, it could be that she actually was spying, in which case why didn’t the Iranian authorities try her in open court so that we could all evaluate their evidence and judge for ourselves whether or not the Iranian authorities were justified in their actions? I understand that certain information such as troop deployment, numbers and movements and weapons capability need to be kept secret because lives could be put at risk, but in a trial this information could remain under wraps while still revealing the type of information she was supposedly uncovering for the American authorities. But I don’t believe for a second that Ms. Saberi is a spy. I believe something far more nefarious remains hidden in this case and that the Iranian authorities want to be certain it is never revealed, or if it is than it is not to be believed.

It is a shame governments, the United States of America included, continue to justify the jailing of journalists whatever the reason. It seems to me that the journalists are the victims here and those in power are the criminals. But then, it seems that this thing known as political power attracts corruptible, murderous criminal types no matter what part of the globe one resides in. A free and independent press would do wonders to keep these types in check and to make sure they behaved themselves. It’s a shame that the independent journalists of the world cannot work without fear of reprisal and it’s a bigger shame that the corporate media has sold out to political interests and can no longer be trusted to do meaningful investigative work. One can only hope that the independent journalists of the world continue their work and continue to grow more significant as time passes. One can only hope that one day we live in a world where open societies are the norm and all information is presented to each and every individual so that everyone can make fully informed judgments.

1 comment:

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