Throughout our lives, we are taught that truth is a virtue; it is respected and expected; we spend our lives claiming the truth. It’s a moral standard that is appreciated and revered even though it has the potential to hurt or change the course of one’s life. Journalism has, for the most part, been a champion of truth and its fundamental claim is to be free from ties that may influence their capacity to provide unbiased information, but at what cost do journalists pay in fighting for truth?
James Foley was a photojournalist with a passion to expose violations against human rights. He recently traveled to Syria to capture the effect that internal conflict has created, only to be captured by members of the terrorist organization ISIS and used as a bargaining chip between ISIS and the United States Government. His crime was being an American citizen in Syria following US air strike attacks against terrorists. His unnecessary and tragic death calls to question the price of truth. In a society that knows more about the intimate lives of the Kardashians than the internal and external conflict that plagues many parts of the world, we must ask ourselves whether the truth is worth the sacrifice and whether we are responsible for Western media placing far too much emphasis on ‘first world problems’ and not enough on the realities of the majority world.
Foley’s death isn’t an isolated incident. Website, Reporters without Borders, a not-for-profit website that places freedom of information at the forefront of their ideology, reports that 44 journalists and 12 citizen journalists have been killed in 2014 so far, and hundreds of others have been jailed for the freedom of truth.
Most of these journalists have died in countries with corrupt military, paramilitary or police force, nations torn with conflict, or because laws against dissent are rigid. But what about journalists who try to report in the United States, a nation mostly known for their love of freedom and reality television? The recent protests in Ferguson, Missouri have naturally generated media attention, with journalists stationing themselves in the area to report on events as they unfold. Police officers and SWAT teams have apparently lashed out specifically at journalists in the area, throwing tear gas, shooting rubber bullets, intimidating and threatening them. They don’t need to be on the street with the protestors, they have reportedly attacked journalists who venture inside private buildings. This apparent attempt at stifling journalists through intimidation, detainment, and physical abuse is a testament to the value of truth in exposing corruption.
Wikileaks, another not-for-profit website, was created with the intention to “bring important news and information to the public” by publishing sensitive information, exposing bureaucratic corruption and intelligence deemed important to be exposed. Since its inception it has released various documents, including events occurring during the Afghanistan war, Guantanamo Bay detention camp, the secrets of Scientology, and most famously, releasing video footage of American soldiers in Baghdad, carelessly shooting and killing civilians, including two journalists working for Reuters, in a brazen air strike. The release of this kind of information has opened eyes and changed positions on these issues. Journalism informs us of things we’d otherwise be completely ignorant of, yet in the case for those working at Wikileaks, it has come at the price of harassment, government shutdowns, threat of legal repercussions, blacklisting and asset freezing among many other method of stifling.
Holding a passion for truth at all costs is a beautiful sentiment, but what is the point if it falls deaf on the ears of those who consume the media? Those who wonder why such calamities affect our world have to look at themselves; we consume so much bullshit from the media that the truth is as relevant as those other Destiny’s Child members. A telling example of this was when there was more of a stir over Brian Griffin dying in an episode of Family Guy than over the many children who had died during the height of the Syrian conflict.
Now that technology has given us the capacity to be both consumers and producers of more media than we could imagine, it should be our job to honor those like James Foley and other journalists who put everything on the line to provide us the freedom to information. We should acknowledge and spread their messages, converse with people about these issues and place less productive media into the ‘sometimes’ pile.