St Bride's: A Point Of View

World Press Freedom Day

John 8: 31-36

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31 Then said Jesus to those Jews which believed on him, If ye continue in my word, then are ye my disciples indeed;

32 And ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.

33 They answered him, We be Abraham's seed, and were never in bondage to any man: how sayest thou, Ye shall be made free?

34 Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.

35 And the servant abideth not in the house for ever: but the Son abideth ever.

36 If the Son therefore shall make you free, ye shall be free indeed.

World Press Freedom Day
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Sunday 4th May: World Press Freedom Day

'The truth will set you free' - Verse 32 of Chapter 8 of St John's Gospel rings like a great bell through so much of our Christian thinking and of our nation's story - indeed the story of the whole Free World - free from sin, free from slavery, free from injustice, free from tyranny.....That slogan is needed just as much today as ever it was in the past. The way to freedom is through the truth and what matters therefore is to know the truth. Tyranny, dictatorship, slavery of every sort thrive on lies, half-truths, evasions and cover-ups.

Freedom and truth go hand in hand. Today is World Press Freedom Day - a reminder that we cannot take our freedoms for granted, and that the press play a crucial role in speaking truth to power and so helping secure and maintain our basic freedoms.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states: 'Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers.'

That is a powerful philosophy which while it may need to be qualified for national security and other legal reasons, is fundamental to our democratic way of life, and is all too often under threat in many parts of the world.

Ironically while we in Britain are embroiled in the debate about press freedoms in the wake of the phone-hacking scandal and the Leveson enquiry, in other countries journalists are being harassed or killed simply for doing their work, publications are being censored or shut down and laws are being passed which criminalise free speech.

And with the expansion of the Internet, social media, podcasts and blogs and tweets have also become powerful platforms for disseminating news in real time as events happen on the ground. Citizen journalists and bloggers have come to play a fundamental role for democratic participation and information gathering. Of course, all these media platforms can be abused and need some kind of regulation - voluntary, not statutory, I believe - and that is an ongoing debate which I don't  want to revisit this morning. I want us today, as we celebrate World Press Freedom Day, rather to remember all those brave journalists, netizens (bloggers) media assistants and camera crew who face pressure, threats, violence and censorship, often on a daily basis in some parts of the world.

How do we know this? Because an organisation called Journalistes Sans Frontiers - Reporters without Borders - compiles an annual ranking of countries, called the Press Freedom Index, which reflects the degree of freedom that journalists, news organisations and citizen bloggers enjoy in each country, and the efforts made by the authorities to respect this freedom. They publish a picture of the globe with countries coloured from green for good, yellow satisfactory, pink for difficult and red for very serious.

Europe and America are good, but swathes of Africa, the Middle East, India and China and Russia are pink or red , in other words - difficult or very serious situations for journalistic freedom.

The Scandanavian countries, Netherlands, Luxembourg, Iceland and New Zealand come out top. Iran, Vietnam, China, Somalia, Syria, North Korea come bottom. We are about number 33 of 180.

In 2014 so far 16 journalists have been killed, (77 for the whole of 2013), 166 have been imprisoned, 4 media assistants have been killed, 9 citizen journalists and bloggers killed and 161 bloggers imprisoned. It's a sobering total.

Why does it matter? Beyond the tragic loss of individual lives - it goes back to my opening text from John's Gospel 'The truth will set you free'. Human freedom is predicated on the ability to make free choices, informed choices, to know what is going on and to hold people in power to account.

To do that we need a free press - which is why the first thing tyrants and oppressive governments do is to control their media outlets: they recognise the importance of the press. Today, as we remember those journalists who have died so far this year, we also remember not to take our freedoms for granted and to stand up for our own media industry even when we may want to criticise aspects of it. I want to end by reading out the names of those who have died:

Anja Niedringhaus
Nils Horner
Santiago Ildio Andrade
Yonni Steven Caicedo
Mayada Ashraf
Firas Mohammed Attiyah
Gregorio Jimenez de la Cruz
Kennedy Germain
Mohamed Mantash
Hamza Hajj Hassan
Omar Abdelqader
Ali Mustafa
Mouaz Muhi Eddin Al-Khaled
Trad Muhamed Al-Zhuri
Mohamed Abdul Al-Ghani Najjar
Vyacheslav Veremyi

Almighty God, direct and bless, we pray, those who in this generation speak where many listen and write what many read; especially all journalists and broadcasters whose words so powerfully influence the life of the nation.

As we remember those who have died, keep those reporting safe in times of danger and bring those reporting from the trouble-spots of the world safely home to families, friends and colleagues.
Amen

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