Guest Blogger - My Mom

My mom and I were talking a few weeks ago and she decided that she had some things to say and would write a Guest Blog Post for me. She isn't online, so she hand wrote this post and I've typed it up here. I was trying to figure out the best way to convey her thoughts, but also give links to the story and some of the issues that she writes about.

I want to thank my mom for this insightful and enlightening piece. At the end, I've written a brief commentary and provided some links.

Recently, I heard an interview on the radio with the widow of a murdered Sri Lankan journalist. The murder happened in January 2009, the day after he had written but not published an editorial predicting his own death. He had been writing about the war that is tearing his country apart and about the corruption in the government. He said that he had to write as a matter of conscience.

A strong, courageous and vocal press is a necessity in a free and open society. It was the press that brought about Nixon’s downfall. The press was “the eyes of the nation” in Vietnam. The press asked for weapons of mass destruction in Iraq and recently the press informed us of the shameful bonuses.

Unfortunately, many daily newspapers are being forced to silence their presses and close their doors. Part of the problem is the decrease in advertising revenues in the bleak economic climate. However, people are not buying newspapers because they can read the news free online. Where will we be as a nation without an open, inquiring and forceful press? What is the price of free?"

The Sri Lankan journalist that my mom referred to was named Lasantha Wickrematunge. I could not find the NPR interview with his widow, but I did find one about his murder.

Lasantha Wickrematunge was a journalist with The Sunday Leader. I read recently that his widow, Sonali Samarasinghe Wickrematunge, is now in hiding because of threats against her life. Because of these death threats, she was unable to accept an award given posthumously to her husband, the 1st Asia Media Award for Press Freedom. His widow is an attorney and a journalist herself. Below is part of her letter, which was read at the award ceremony.
'"Sixteen journalists have been murdered in Sri Lanka in the past three years. Lasantha knew he was on the government’s hit list, but felt it cowardly to take precautions against an attack. He felt it was impossible to protect himself against the resources of the government, short of abandoning his career as a journalist and fleeing the country he loved. In addition to the 16 journalists who have been killed in the past three years, dozens of others have disappeared, been imprisoned without charge or been forced to flee the country.

"I thank the Asia Media Forum for honouring Lasantha with this special Award. He would have been proud. I know that the road ahead is steep for us who continue to fight for freedom. But we have to move on. We must. For Lasantha Wickrematunge, for Daniel Pearl, for all journalists killed in the line of duty. We must. For ourselves and the future of our children.

"Lasantha would want this. More conferences. More action. More voices to emerge. He had many dreams. A classless society. Media that existed in the public interest. Politicians that worked for the public interest. Peaceful and negotiated solution to conflict. Lasantha died in pursuit of his dream. So did Martin Luther King."'

My mother is expressing her concern about newspapers failing in the United States and with it the power of a free press. It's become a huge issue. Even the cartoon character Brenda Starr was let go from her job. Based on an abc report, it looks like she could end up blogging or on twitter. She most recently declared herself free.

I also found an extremely thought provoking article about why so much of our economy is now based on "free" goods and services and how that is impacting business. Because of the current crisis in the newspaper industry, Senator Cardin of Maryland has recently proposed legislation that would allow newspapers to act as non-profits. Below is a portion from the press release.
"The Newspaper Revitalization Act would allow newspapers to operate as non-profits, if they choose, under 501(c)(3) status for educational purposes, similar to public broadcasting. Under this arrangement, newspapers would not be allowed to make political endorsements, but would be allowed to freely report on all issues, including political campaigns. Advertising and subscription revenue would be tax exempt and contributions to support coverage or operations could be tax deductible."

I'm not sure how much support there is for this legislation, but it's an interesting measure to say the least.

Today is March 31st, Cesar Chavez's birthday, so I think this is a good day to think about freedom, human rights, and maybe sign the petition to make his birthday a National Holiday.

Anali's First Amendment © 2006-2009. All rights reserved.
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My daughter had planned a career in journalism. She's got one more year of college ahead of her and is re-thinking her plans. It's sad ... newspapers are folding all over the country.
K. said…
What a sad is sad to see all these newspapers folding...I just love the printed word!

PS...Mom did a great job!
Mocha Dad said…
I hadn't heard about the bill to convert newspapers to non-profits. I thinks it's a compelling solution. This is a baill that I would definitely support.
Suldog said…
It certainly is a thorny issue. On the one hand, a free press (a truly free press) is an absolutely necessity for our nation to function as envisioned by the founders. On the other hand, this being a more-or-less capitalist society, guaranteeing the existence of an industry is rather against that (although, GM, bailouts, etc.)

All I know for sure is that I love newspapers. I love the feel of them, the smell of them, everything about them. I hope they stick around at least until I'm gone :-)
shilpa said…
Hey Anali..Mom did an awesome job!!
It is much advertising can govern.It is known that in Indian newspapers ,advertising gives a company/individual the power to control what gets printed and how much gets printed.
Whatever happened to prejudice -free reporting? And what of the important stories that aren't being told?
Lisa Johnson said…
twenty four at heart - I told my mom about your comment, which she appreciated, and she hopes that your daughter sticks with journalism.

kirti - Welcome! My mom appreciated the kind words!

mocha dad - Thanks for stopping by! It will be interesting to see what happens with this legislation. It could be a solution.

suldog - It will be interesting to see how this all ends up. In five years, I wonder how many newspapers will still be around?

shilpa - Thank you! I'll tell my mom that you liked the post. I don't think your comment was up when I last spoke with her.
dmarks said…
I like the idea, but think the restrictions on making "political endorsements" should not be part of it at all. The newspapers should be forced to chuck the Constitutional protection of "Freedom of the press" to enjoy not being clobbered by taxes.

Churches aren't taxed, supposedly out of interest of the first amendment. So there is a precedent for giving newspapers the same protection.

To me the biggest problem with this becomes: how a newspaper is defined? You would probably end up with a thin line between a "newspaper" and a "news magazine" that would raise major issues.
Lisa Johnson said…
dmarks - Great points. I can definitely see the definition becoming a big issue if this legislation gets off the ground. Although, there doesn't seem to be much buzz about it.
I love holding my newspaper in my hands and reading it, even though I read online, too. I am sad about the demise as well. Folks like Seth Godin have said the newspapers are not unlike American car companies (albeit on a smaller scale) ... that is, they were told for years that they had to change their ways and go to a different format that people would want and somehow still pay for, but they dimissed the concerns. I find myself more sympathetic to newspapers. I mean exactly how does the newspaper industry do what needs to be done to survive? I am grateful our local newspaper is still doing well.

Very nice that your mom did this thought-provoking post. She's absolutely correct on the impact of journalism.

Lisa Johnson said…
shirley -I'm glad that your local paper is doing well. And I'll pass along your kind words to my mom. Thank you!

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