“You really need to stop doing that; you know it’s not going to help you in the future,” my roommate shouts from the kitchen after I read out loud a headline about a journalist killed in Mexico.
“Yeah I know, it’s not healthy, but I can’t really help it,” I say as I scroll on through the rest of the story; details about the murder go on for about a page and a half. I furrow my brow in concentration and think what a precarious life it is to work in international journalism.
In my own naive way, I thought of this death as another distant tragedy, one that should be honored and respected, of course, but nothing that I personally could have related to.
But I guess that was my first mistake.
Mexico, Syria, Iraq and the Philippines are some of the few countries where imprisonment, execution and disappearance of journalists are the most rampant.
The events of June 28, 2018, would not qualify the United States to be on that list, but it certainly set the industry on edge, and it certainly brings to question what freedoms our country truly values. Whatever you may think of journalists in this moment, the freedom of the press is a constitutionally guaranteed right, as it should be in a country that boasts a legacy of democracy.
Freedom House, an independent “watchdog organization,” releases an annual report of each country’s score with respect to its promotion and upholding of freedoms, from zero to 100. According to its website, the organization champions political and civil liberties and “support(s) frontline activists to defend human rights and promote democratic change.” The organization compiles its data through a “multilayered process,” drawing legal basis from Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers,” Article 19 reads.
In its annual “Freedom in the World” report, Freedom House gave the United States a score of 89 in 2017. To put it in perspective, Mexico scored 65, while Russia unsurprisingly found itself at a low 20. But more importantly, Freedom House also conducts an annual “Freedom of the Press” report specifically to gauge a country’s support of free media. On this scale the scores are reversed, with zero meaning most free and 100 meaning least free. Russia tips the scales at 83, while Mexico is one point shy of its original Freedom House score at 64. The United States is at a secure 23 — however, the report acknowledges President Donald Trump’s disparaging words against the press.
Where these scores will land within a year, it’s hard to tell, but we can only hope for the best. Despite where you fall on the political spectrum, an attack on the press nonetheless is an attack on democracy itself. For if citizens follow the suit of the administration, we empower dangerous and volatile individuals to take advantage of local newspapers, the most vulnerable but hardworking publications of the industry.
The United States is safe. That’s what has been ingrained into me — from the moment my mother and I stepped off the tarmac in 2001, we assumed this would be a very different world. “Anak, this is America,” I was often told growing up, alluding to not only the culture that we left behind in the Philippines but to the poverty, political corruption and economic hardships that drove us to find home two oceans and a continent away.
Growing up in a presumably “safe” environment has made me blind to the possibility of change or disruption. Thus, the shooting at Capital Gazette was a brutal wake-up call. As an aspiring journalist, I do believe that a free press, while fully acknowledging its misgivings, is the bedrock of a liberal democracy. The death of the five staff members at Capital Gazette brings into question what kind of country we want to become. To treat this tragedy as a one-off instance would prove detrimental, perhaps even fatal.
For me, I hope that the country my family has given up so much for does not fall into the same path of the one we left behind.