Tough times for the free press

  • Brave man: Li Wenliang made the early call on the coronavirus, was ostracised by the Chinese Government and then died of the illness

    Brave man: Li Wenliang made the early call on the coronavirus, was ostracised by the Chinese Government and then died of the illness

Around the world, including here in Bermuda, the media are often attacked for doing their job, which is to report truth and facts involving day-to-day events affecting lives.

Professional journalists in most cases undergo special training to inform the public without bias on any matter of concern.

There are times when a subject can be extremely sensitive, and there will be those who would prefer to have some matters kept from public view.

While in some cases there may be merit about how some reports are handled, it is never healthy to be critical of the press unless there is proof a report was misleading and false.

Journalists are not bound by who will be pleased, or offended, after reporting information of public interest. These are tough times globally for the profession, especially when the free press are branded as fake news by powerful leaders of large countries.

Mistakes will occur, even among professionals, and when that happens usually they are quick to acknowledge error, fully aware of the need to protect credibility should they get it wrong. In other words, good journalists are not afraid to be under the spotlight themselves.

There will always be reports that displease some, while others take the view that even the ugly truth needs exposure. After all, the free press also report inspirational stories about people who are willing to sacrifice much in trying to help others in various parts of the globe.

Had it not been for the free press, the world might not have learnt about the warning sounded by a Chinese doctor, Li Wenliang, about the emergence of a new virus, which could cause a major problem if not contained. China, not noted for celebrating the free press, blacklisted Dr Li for spreading rumours. Sadly, the doctor himself became one of the first victims of the coronavirus.

However, truth will usually have the last word, and as the number of victims increased, authorities were still insisting the situation was under control.

The coronavirus was slowly affecting life in many Chinese villages as the number of victims started to climb.

Each year, the flu is a concern in many countries, but concern was mounting that something different was in the air. Every report coming out of China by journalists was being closely watched by the rest of the world, especially when it became known that the virus spread quickly with no known treatment available.

From just a few victims at first, the number eventually jumped to well over a thousand, and as a form of protection, many Chinese villages isolated themselves, sealing off all roads to outsiders. At this stage, the world was becoming anxious as China itself became to some degree isolated, with fear that the virus could be spread by infected persons travelling to other countries.

Brave reporters wearing face masks, which had become the norm with everyone moving about, were still doing their job in trying to relay facts about what was happening. A very important factor here is that the hard lesson of covering truth can lead later to a rude awakening.

This is a situation journalists are confronted with in many countries, as those in power are always wary of reporters who have the responsibility of asking questions on controversial matters.

In the political arena, all governments should be held accountable on any matter of public concern. When any government is reluctant to answer questions from the media, it could indicate a fear of truth that might put them in the bright light of transparency.

Here in Bermuda, we still have a beautiful country with wonderful people, but beneath the surface there are issues of dangerously poor attitudes on our roads. The Government is also fully aware that there is a persistent crime problem that bothers our communities. Most Bermudians want improvement in these areas, and they also know much will depend on how we deal with truth when it comes to facing reality.

Truth really does matter. The free press will always have a role to play in keeping the public informed with the highest professional ethics because truth should never be ignored.

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Published Feb 18, 2020 at 8:00 am (Updated Feb 18, 2020 at 7:48 am)

Tough times for the free press

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