Thursday, March 5, 2009

Freedom of press a gift worth celebrating

Arizona Republic, The (Phoenix, AZ) - Saturday, May 3, 2008
Author: RICHARD KELLEHER , The Republic

Recently I read a local public relations blog concerning whether or not the site should run a press release it received from some agency.

My answer was freedom of the press, but that is something we may be losing as new media takes center stage.

Freedom of the press is so critical, the United Nations celebrates World Press Freedom Day today. The UN site carried this message, "Throughout the world, 3 May serves as an occasion to inform the public of violations of the right to freedom of expression and as a reminder that many journalists brave death or jail to bring people their daily news."

Recently, I studied how people reacted when television came along. It was much the same stories now being written about the so-called "social media" or new media. It's media. It includes television, newspapers, radio, Internet, even town criers. Everything changes, but we must protect our freedom of the press; even now in the 21st century when media is changing to focus on Internet, including the recent page redesign of

The local Web PR site/blog brings to light that many local PR people have no idea who John Peter Zenger was. Any journalist and most PR people coming out of journalism should know Zenger was a father of freedom of the press in the United States. He was the George Washington of freedom of the press.

Zenger's life and jail time for freedom of the press are too lengthy to get into here. I spent much of a year in college studying Zenger, first in history of journalism and then journalism law. I encourage everyone to learn something about this period of our nation's history, the early 18th century, just before we became a nation.

Why should every Arizonan be concerned with freedom of the press? We've had many local government officials who want to shut the door, violating open meeting laws. The public has a right to know what its elected officials are doing.

According to Reporters Without Borders, more than one-third of the world's people live in countries where there is no press freedom.

Cuba just got cellphone privileges. Wait till Cubans discover that cellphones now have GPS and can track their every move. Most Cubans still can't have Internet access -- and Cuba is only 90 miles south of the U.S. We should be broadcasting free Internet like we broadcast Radio Free Europe. Cuba is one of those countries without freedom of the press.

We in the U.S. are lucky to have freedom of the press. It is so important, our forefathers included it in the First Amendment. Arizonans, let's celebrate World Press Freedom Day today. Maybe we should all turn our lights off for an hour.

Hopefully Web sites, among them TMZ, will mature and take a hard look at their responsibilities. Press freedom may be a right, but it is a hard fought privilege and those dealing in the media (that includes marketing professionals dealing with advertising, public relations and Internet) need to treat it as respectfully as you would carry dynamite or nitroglycerin. Words are even more volatile.