Defending journalistic freedom

As the Global Conference for Media Freedom that took place this week in London makes plain, being a journalist can too often be a dangerous vocation. The good work of revealing what’s true and exposing evil deserves our prayers to help give strength to those standing for truth.

Each morning, I listen for a thump at my front door, which indicates the local newspaper has arrived. I don’t always agree with the paper’s editorial positions, but I never think about injuring or killing any of the writers!

Tragically, not everyone thinks this way. According to UNESCO’s tracking of journalistic freedom, from 2006 to 2016 close to 930 journalists were killed for reporting the news.

While some are “outsiders,” 9 out of 10 victims are citizens of the country where they are killed, and these figures don’t include the many cases of harassment or injury inflicted on journalists. This year the United Nations General Assembly has proclaimed Nov. 2 as “International Day to End Impunity for Crimes against Journalists.”

As I’ve been praying about this issue, I’ve been reminded of the efforts of Jesus and his disciples in spreading the “good news” of God’s love for humanity. They weren’t exactly welcomed with open arms either. The local religious authorities weren’t very pleased by Jesus exposing their hypocrisy, nor did they care for all that he was saying about loving one another, rising above local prejudices, and his practice of healing the sick, even raising the dead. Jesus was persecuted for the truth he taught and proved, and so were his followers.

While not all reporters are equally committed to honesty and factual reporting, and while the reports of even the best of today’s reporters are not stories for all time such as the ones in the Bible, the best efforts of the world’s journalists are needed to expose wrongdoing, as well as highlight right-doing.

This good work of revealing the truth and exposing evil deserves our prayers. When done honestly and with pure motives, it actually has its source in God, divine Truth, which by its very nature reveals what is true and God-ordained, and gives strength to those who are standing for truth. Equally, it uncovers and destroys that which is not truthful, lawful, or principled.

Jesus said, “There is nothing covered, that shall not be revealed; and hid, that shall not be known” (Matthew 10:26). And Mary Baker Eddy, the discoverer and founder of Christian Science, recognized from her own experience interacting with the press that accurate reporting is essential. She founded The Christian Science Monitor as a result, giving it the mission “to injure no man, but to bless all mankind” (“The First Church of Christ, Scientist, and Miscellany,” p. 353).

Despite the profound sweetness of that idea, reporters acting under its mandate recognize that to “bless all mankind” includes exposing evils that need to be recognized and addressed as well as finding green shoots of promise where good is breaking through.

In 1995, Monitor correspondent David Rohde uncovered the suspected mass graves of thousands of Muslims killed in Srebrenica. He was captured and held captive for 10 days until a flurry of diplomatic efforts won his release from a Bosnian Serb jail, and his exposé went on to win a Pulitzer Prize.

As citizens – no matter what our country – we each can play a part in this work of praying to protect the world’s journalists. The Bible says, “God hath spoken once; twice have I heard this; that power belongeth unto God” (Psalms 62:11).

Our prayers for journalists can recognize God’s power as a protecting force in their lives and in our cities, towns, and countries. As another psalm puts it, “He shall give his angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways” (Psalms 91:11). Those angels are powerful thoughts that give strength in time of need. And they also guide us to right actions that support truth – whether we are journalists ourselves or praying in support of them.

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