Saturday, June 20, 2009

Journalists, Political Intrigue and Controlling Your Thoughts

Once again imprisoned journalists have made the news. This time two lovely women have suffered a fate I would not wish upon my worst enemy. I am talking about the two American journalists, Laura Ling and Euna Lee, who were sentenced to twelve years hard labor for the crime of supposedly entering North Korea. It is more than obvious, in my opinion, that these women are simply pawns in a dangerous game of international politics. They were guilty of nothing more than simply doing their job and attempting to provide unbiased, factual information to the masses of humanity. Unfortunately, their jobs brought them just a bit too close to a volatile border and they were quickly caught up in a situation they certainly did not want to create. These women were no spies and I wouldn’t be surprised if their capture was deliberate and it was actually the North Koreans that had encroached upon China’s domain, but to them these women were too much an opportunity for political bargaining leverage to pass up.

It is likely the North Korean government saw what was going on in Iran, the attention that state was getting, and like a jealous child they wanted to gain attention also. Unfortunately, when dealing with such an isolated country and such a psychologically unpredictable leader one never knows what demands will be made. It is difficult to guess exactly what Kim Jong-il is thinking. With the provocative nuclear tests North Korea has engaged in recently and the lives of perhaps millions hanging in the balance, the fate of these two young ladies becomes all the more uncertain. One can only hope that worldwide concern, condemnation and pressure on Kim Jong-il’s regime will secure the release of these two innocent journalists.

Using journalists as pawns is not a new phenomenon. It seems, however, that is has gotten a lot more press recently. People seeking power have always strived to control the thought processes of the masses. They’ve always sought to promote not only their point of view, but their way of thinking, no matter how convoluted. They discovered long ago that one of the best ways to do this is to control journalists and media outlets. Sometimes this can be achieved as easily as a couple of payoffs. Similar methods may include a rich and powerful elite buying up major media outlets and hiring performers instead of principled journalists who will shill for their point of view. Of course in societies ruled by authoritarian regimes, the media is owned by the state and obviously biased toward the leadership of the nation. These practices may appear innocuous, yet they may create a misinformed populace and problems for anyone who tries to inject an objective point of view into the public sphere.

In some areas, however, it becomes quite a bit more complicated. I was recently made aware, for instance, of a tragedy that took place in Nepal in January of this year. This was the sad case of Ms. Uma Singh, a radio journalist who was brutally murdered. According to witnesses she was stabbed to death by ten to fifteen men who barged into her residence. One would be justified in wondering what on Earth could be so frightening about one little woman to warrant having to send so many strong, burly men to see to her demise. Furthermore, one might wonder if this woman posed any threat at all to these men. I suppose it is possible, if this woman was about to expose some truth that these men didn’t want to be known. Truth is often a very frightening thing to some people as they know they’ve done wrong and they are afraid of what might happen should they be discovered. A more likely explanation is that these men were paid killers hired by someone who wanted Ms. Singh silenced and wanted to send a message to other journalists. For those who seek power, often times honest reporting is the last thing they want the people to hear.

Admittedly, I don’t know that much about Nepal or the Nepalese people. I have never traveled there nor have I personally met anyone from there. I do believe, however, that people everywhere are quite similar. People in all corners of the world want to be free to live their own lives as they see fit. They want to be free from intrusive government regulations and restrictions. They want to be free to speak their minds. They want to be informed in an honest, objective fashion. They want to be able to believe with relative certainty that they are being told fact and not being fed propaganda. According to what I’ve read coming out of Nepal, particularly in the Tarai region, the ordinary people there have no faith in their media because journalists there are more or less nothing but mouth pieces for various political parties.

It is my understanding that this region, the Tarai region, is rife with dozens of political parties vying for power and control over not only the people of the region, but its natural resources. As usual, everything revolves around money. As usual, the easiest way to grab the money is through politics. As usual, the common man gets the shaft and is not represented in the halls of power. But in Nepal, as evidenced by Uma Singh’s murder, being honest and expressing one’s true feelings, at least in a public way such as by reporting news over the radio, can be deadly.

The people that killed Ms. Singh, or the ones that ordered her death, are likely under the misconception that they can actually control the way people think by violence and fear. They don’t understand that they don’t control people’s innermost thoughts with such actions, they can only control their outward behavior. Even less, they can only control the public behavior of people when they are in the vicinity. The moment they turn their backs, or that no one feels threatened, people will discuss with each other their true thoughts and feelings. Perhaps they don’t care what people do when they’re not watching or perhaps they do, but in the long run I’m really not sure if that will matter. Sooner or later the resentment will build and those who exercise power will one day have to pay the piper once that resentment becomes too much for ordinary humans to contain.

Ms. Singh’s murderers have to this date not been arrested. No one has been charged. There is not even an ongoing investigation that I am aware of. I am aware that some Nepalese government agency has declared Ms. Singh a martyr and has compensated her family. That seems to me to be woefully inadequate. I know there are cultural differences at work here and I can’t speak for Ms. Singh’s family, but as for myself I would feel angered and perhaps insulted by such an action. I would want justice if my daughter had been killed in such a manner, not compensation, and especially not money from the state which simply steals the money it has from its citizens in the form of taxes. If I were to receive compensation it had better be from the men who carried out such a heinous crime or those who hired them. I would want to be able to rest knowing that these men would no longer be able to cause so much grief to another. It seems to me that when the authorities simply try to pay off the victim’s family and refuse to investigate further and bring the perpetrators to justice, that perhaps they are trying to cover up their own complicity in this convoluted matter.

Incidents like this continue to occur throughout the world. I’m certain there are many occurrences that go unreported, many journalists who are threatened on a daily basis. It is my hope that more light is shed upon these incidents as time goes by, whether caused by governments in power, both large and small, or by some other political force. It is my hope that such happenings spur journalists to dig deeper, investigate more fully, and expose those who engage in such devious activities rather than cause journalists to cower and hide in fear. Only in this way can the people come to understand who is trying to control the way they think and why. Only in this way can the public come to know who should be shunned and who should be praised.

Journalism is a powerful force. It should not be controlled by those with an interest in hiding the truth. Any attempt to hide or obfuscate facts, whether from a political party trying to gain power or from those who already operate the levers of the state, should be exposed and reported on. It is up to those in the media to use the power afforded to them to make certain that anyone trying to manipulate them is exposed for what they are. It is up to them to stick to their principles. Truth is a powerful tool and I believe the vast majority of people can differentiate between truth and propaganda when they see it. The importance of press freedom and the ability for journalists to operate without fear cannot be overemphasized and in my opinion it is prudent to question the motivations of anyone who would feel or state differently.

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