Al Seymour

Imagine no free press

  • Harsh rules: migrants wait for food in a pen erected by US Customs and Border Protection in El Paso, Texas. Those requiring specialist medical care can now be deported, several US news outlets reported (Photograph by Cedar Attanasio/AP)

Much of the world is aware of the brutal criticism levelled at the free press by the leader of the most powerful country on the planet. It has been a rough ride for various news outlets including, radio, the print media, and television.

Much of this exploded, when investigations were launched into suspected Russian interference in the 2016 presidential election, which saw Donald Trump take possession of the Oval Office in the White House.

Even though an official probe into allegations of Russian involvement revealed a connection, the man heading the investigation, Robert Mueller, a former FBI director, said there were signs the Russians were also eyeing the 2020 election.

The report also stated that evidence uncovered during investigations, found attempts by the US administration to stifle the process. Mueller stressed that, as a result, he was unable to exonerate the President from potential obstruction of justice.

While all of this is recorded history, cries of fake news, and the press being the enemy of the people, continued to pour from the White House, as though the free press should shut its doors, and retreat from the responsibility of seeking truth, and professionally informing the people. As long as there is something called democracy, that will never happen.

Too often, democracy and the free press are taken for granted, until people are given a look at life without freedom of the press.

To begin with, no government is perfect, and neither is the free press. However, in any democracy, both of these institutions have a role to play in keeping justice, decency, and fair play alive in attempting to serve the people in the best way possible.

With dictatorial regimes, there are no press conferences, just press statements that are not to be challenged by anyone, without risk of grave consequences.

Millions of people exist today under such conditions, with little hope of change. Without democracy and press freedom, dreadful suffering is kept out of the world spotlight. Many journalists over the years have paid with their lives in trying to expose truth in corrupt systems.

The importance of the free press was highlighted last week, when Rachel Maddow, an MSNBC host, uncovered and revealed how a US government policy, if implemented, would pass a death sentence on a young migrant girl who faces deportation, despite being under treatment for an extremely rare genetic ailment.

According to the report, she received a letter from a government agency, informing her that she no longer qualified for such treatment, and within a matter of days she would be deported. Apparently, other migrant children undergoing specialised treatment, could face a similar fate.

The girl, now in her 20s, has been in the United States since the age of 7, after being brought there, by doctors, who wanted to study her condition in order to help her, and others suffering from the ailment.

Dr Paul Halmatz, who has been overseeing her treatment, said much had been learnt, and that to pull the plug on treatment over a government policy, would be nothing short of a death sentence for the young lady. With treatment only available in the US, she was able to attend high school, and was able to encourage others not to lose hope. There has been tremendous reaction over this story, which would never been told without the free press.

People throughout the United States, and indeed, around the world, have been calling for a government review of the situation with a view to altering a policy that simply declares that government law was more important than life itself.

The important factor here is that without the free press to expose such a policy, migrant children receiving special medical treatment in the US, would be pushed into the shadows of life without fanfare. That would be totally unacceptable.

One can only wonder what happens in countries where there is no free press, and the people are at the mercy of authorities, who have been known to eliminate those who dare to challenge how they rule.

All governments, large and small, must be held accountable for their actions. There is no greater watchdog for this than the free press. They may not be perfect, but without them, no society will have true freedom.