Independent news and information has always been important to me. In 1991 my cousin was serving among the first regiments sent to liberate Kuwait after the Iraqi invasion. Behind all the excitement and pride at home, reading newspapers at the time gave me a sense of the scale of what was happening.
Reading the facts about the consequences of the Iraq war; the danger, loss of life and threat of chemical weapons, was shocking. But the reporting also provided an honesty and helped me understand what was going on.
It was a formative experience. I went into journalism 9 years later, inspired by the story of Don Hale’s campaign to free Stephen Downing. This is local journalism at its finest.
My modest career in local news never reached the dizzy heights of holding Governments to account, or fighting miscarriages of justice. However, I was able to raise the profile of some smaller battles: funding and support for Romanian immigrants escaping prostitution, and violent clashes between the Animal Liberation Front and local hunts.
My time in local news also facilitated a brief introduction to the venerable Sir Harry Evans.
He is probably most famous for his ground breaking investigation into Thalidomide, which killed or maimed 100,000 people between 1958 and 1962. Harry Evans, like journalists before him and ever more, fought for the freedom of the press, in order to fight for justice.
A free press is even more essential in an online world
It’s easy to forget that even as recently as the early 2000s, victims, activists, volunteers and campaigners all relied on the press to make themselves heard. Now that a petition, Facebook group or hashtag can give us almost instant access to a community of like minded people, and a place to make our case, the idea of co-opting a journalist seems almost quaint.
The traditional models of journalism: researching, verifying, crafting and delivering news, are changing all the time. Today we consume news and information in a totally different way to how we might have done just 10 years ago.
It’s because of these changes in our behaviours and the platforms that govern them, that we need a free press. We need a free press to analyse and distil eyewitness testimonies, corporate reporting and institutional data. And to pierce the online bubbles we occupy.
From super injunctions to state ownership
Depending on where you live in the world, a free press could mean fighting against super injunctions, or monopolies in platform and press ownership. For many countries, the goal is simply having any form or reporting that is not state-owned.
My work has taken me to the offices of Weibo and the People’s Daily. I’ve also met bloggers in China and Cameroon and talked to them about the threats they face on a weekly basis.
Press freedom is not something anyone should take for granted. Wherever you see media like the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, show them your support.
They’re more important than ever.