Guarding the freedom of the press {Editor’s Column}

Niki Turner

Our commissioners, after careful consideration, have suspended their support of Senate Bill 18-156, a vote for which I am grateful, and you should be, too. But why, you ask, does it matter? We’ve got horrific gun violence on one hand and sports teams going to regionals on the other. Where does a state bill that only seems to impact newspapers fall in that broad spectrum?

It matters because every time a politician threatens to curtail freedom of the press—whether through lightly veiled threats or bills that hinder the release of public information—it’s as much an attack on the foundation of our democracy as the call to relinquish our guns. Maybe more, since freedom of the press precedes the right to bear arms in the Bill of Rights, a fact the government likes to overlook. Press lobbyists apparently have fewer funds available for fancy advertising than gun rights lobbyists.

Access to information is more valuable than gold these days, literally. The amount of money spent to attract our attention is mind-boggling. The accurate dissemination of information gives us the knowledge we need to surmount the problems of our day. On the other hand, the inaccurate dissemination of information in the form of propaganda, blatant falsehoods on the internet and conspiracy theory pervades our world daily. No wonder there are attacks on all sides against the press, which has been working to bring accurate, honest information to the public since the 1700s in America.

Do we always get it right? No. But the American press (I know this is my bias, but this is an opinion piece and I’m allowed to do that here), has done—and continues to do—its job in the cause of perpetuating freedom and justice. Remember Nellie Bly’s exposé of the mistreatment of mental patients, the leak of the Pentagon Papers, Watergate, and the sex abuse scandal in the Catholic church? Without a free press would those injustices have ever come to light?

There’s a reason our founding fathers, in all their wisdom, included freedom of the press at the very top of their list of essentials.

As Arizona Sen. John McCain stated in an interview on NBC, “If you want to preserve—I’m very serious now—if you want to preserve democracy as we know it, you have to have a free and many times adversarial press. And without it, I am afraid that we would lose so much of our individual liberties over time. That’s how dictators get started… They get started by suppressing free press. In other words, a consolidation of power. When you look at history, the first thing that dictators do is shut down the press.”

We must beware attacks—including sneaky ones, like government attempts to dismantle public notices and Russian bots posing as news sites—with the same determination with which we defend the right to bear arms, because if the first is lost, the second will fall.

On that note, the contact information for our state senator and representative is listed below. I urge you to contact them and ask them to vote “no” on SB 18-156.