Journalists should get a well-established legal privilege to protect their sources and them
Former US President Trump has the doubtful honor to have spearheaded an unprecedented, almost Medieval, attack on the free press. He had the audacity, not shown before, to call the free press ‘the enemy of the State.’ After Louis XIV, the French King who famously explained: “L’état, c’est moi, the State, that is me.” His attack has borne fruit.
First, there is the recent shocking revelation that Trump’s AG Bill Barr had obtained the phone and email records of a prominent CNN journalist. Sounds very much like an abuse of power.
However, the boss of CNN objects to this ‘infringement on free speech.’
But, should not Freedom of the Press be more than just Free Speech?
Methinks that journalists should receive a well-established legal privilege, similar to the attorney-client privilege or doctor-patient privilege, to protect their sources from the government and from the courts.
Otherwise, a free press is an empty slogan.
Another battlefield has just opened up in Israel. A couple of journalists have been assaulted at work by members of the public that didn’t appreciate their reporting. Some of them needed police protection.
This, though IMHO the Israeli society is much less violent than the US one.
The advice not to shoot the messenger has very long and wide historic roots. Also, In the olden days, after a good play, theater-goers could wait for the actor who played the villain to emerge from the theater to beat him up. The human being evolves really slowly (if at all).
Assault on people who give you unwelcome news is also not restricted to violence against reporters. Also, physicians have been attacked by patients or family. (In a man-bite-dog attack, also the opposite can happen.)
I feel tempted to say that if you’re pleasant enough, it won’t happen. But that sounds much like blaming women’s ways to dress for sexual assault while the problem clearly lies with the men and not with ‘provocations.’
And this all on top of the longstanding dangers journalists are exposed to when investigating powerful violent people and organizations, operating in a war zone, or working in countries that lack human rights and freedoms.
Democracy can’t exist without free elections and free election can’t exist without a free press. There’s no free press without democracy and no democracy without a free press. This is so much bigger than free speech.