Leave our Journalists Alone!

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba'aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Cartoon by Mohammed Saba’aneh in response to the Charlie Hebdo massacre in January 2015.

Long ago, I used to produce podcasts with my college radio station. Loved it. The attack this morning on a satirical publication in Paris called Charlie Hebdo had me thinking about the importance of journalistic freedom, and I wanted to put those thoughts into a podcast. (excuse a few hiccups, this is my first in a long time.) Holding in the light the victims’ families and their loved ones.

Music is “You Can’t Outrun the Radio” by Jonathan Byrd. Support good musicians, buy the album!

[transcription below]

I’m not really a journalist. No one pays me to report news, to ask tough questions, write articles and editorials, or keep deadlines. I have known people who are light-years better than I am at that game and have been doing it for years. Me, I managed to write a community newspaper in a poverty-stricken community for three months, and did student news for a bit. I’ve long fancied myself a journalist at my core, but I’m too shy, and intimidated by the standards and sheer output required by professional journalists. If anything, I’m a two-bit blogger and perpetually under-employed hack who writes as much as he can in his free hours. But damned if I don’t respect the real deal: the ink-stained truth-seekers with one hand on a pen and paper and the other on a bottle of stiff liquor, the tellers of true tales and chasers of horrifying realities in far-away lands, where the wars never seem to come to an end, whose role is to convey that to us civilians on our couches at home.

If you’ve known me a while, you know I used to do radio. These were in the starry-eyed days of college, before my reality came spinning apart. This’ll be the first time I’ve produced a radio piece for many years, and it feels good to be recording my voice again. It’s symbolic, really. Like, I’m officially reclaiming my voice again by recording it and streaming it into the aether. Best of luck to you, voice!

~~~

But, right now, it feels pretty important. There was an attack on the French satirical publication Charlie Hebdo this morning. This, coming off a year of executions of journalists, suppression of free speech, and countless lost lives in pursuit of the right to making unheard voices heard. It feels like where we in the U.S. have declared “War” on concepts as diverse as drugs, terror, and communism, folks elsewhere have taken up arms against expression.

It’s probably just the fact that I’m an absolute media junky, lost in the meandering corridors of the web, but events like this seem to blur together. I’m the modern equivalent of a HAM radio operator with aluminum foil on my head, tracing one conspiracy disaster after another from the safety of my home. But, the right to express myself freely is a pretty big deal to me, and these clear and explicit attacks on that right are far from victimless. I do not believe that violence creates productive solutions, and it is so many light-years away from my conception of religion that I can hardly even conceive what might inspire an attack like this. However juvenile the piece of writing, and whatever the depths of poor taste these writers’ jokes may have explored, no way is it worth shooting up the place. My feeling is that faith is a thing of joy and gratitude and peace. And something is awry if faith results in persecution, division, or subjugation. I’ve been through some tough stuff, and faith is what carried me through that. Never, ever, ever would I want my religion to justify brutality, even when the media can get pretty offensive.

[While studying at journalism school in Kansas, I had some experience with religious extremism.] Boasting a long history of radical politics, Kansas today is moving toward the reactionary. One of my interviews [as a student journalist] was with the guy behind a display of 20-foot-tall dead aborted fetuses. Turns out this guy was not a raving nutjob, much to my surprise and chagrin. We had the stations of the cross acted out on campus, we had evangelists screaming guilt-trips at students on the regular. Not only that, we were a mere 30 minutes away from the ultimate test of free speech, the Westboro Baptist church, only half an hour away in Topeka. Mind you, these guys have values that are about as far away from my own as it is possible to be. But grudgingly, I’ll give them their ten minutes to spit vitriol in the public space. I do have beliefs of my own, but I am also a huge believer in the power of the public forum. I have been told that that makes me ideologically cowardly. Maybe. But I prefer to think of it as being open-minded. You of course, can say and think what you want about me. I’ll do the same. Only I’ll try to be polite.

Later on, in Georgia, I was asked to say a few words at a community ribbon-cutting for refugees from Darfur that I was reporting on. Seriously, though, can you believe that? I was writing an article on the event, and had the proceedings translated to me by a friend. It was one of the greatest honors I’ve had, thinking back on it. And I remember, my speech was awful. I said the first words that came to my mind, something garbled related to making people’s voices heard. A simple enough concept. But, then again, not simple at all. Folks from Darfur in the U.S. experienced diaspora, or a forced migration and loss of a historic homeland. They described it to me as a feeling of restlessness, of deep sadness, and loneliness in the face of an unknown future. A loss of identity. A loss of cultural agency, and ultimately a shattering of community. I’ve been thinking about it, and I feel like that parallels what we’re facing here with the attacks in Paris. These attacks make people fear to speak their minds.

A friend’s son [had a close friend who] was taken captive in Yemen. He was a journalist, and I recently found out that he lost his life. Eleven more people lost their lives today. More than that, they lost their futures, their stories, their identities, their cultural agency. I may not be a real journalist, but I hold most dearly and close to my heart, the right, privilege, and responsibility, to express who I am, and to do so even when who I am, and what I believe, is less than popular. So, I’m gonna say it once, and I’m gonna say it a million times: Leave our journalists alone.

Thanks for listening,

Justin

Committee to Protect Journalists is a great organization working to protect journalists’ safety and freedom of speech around the world. Here’s a some information they put together on journalists killed around the world in 2014.

Also, check out this defense of satire by former Onion editor Joe Randazzo. He says, “The most responsible thing we can do is be aware that the most likely threat to freedom will now come from within. We cannot, should not, police our own thoughts – or the thoughts of our fellow citizens. Because the First Amendment does not just protect our free speech; it protects all expression, including religion.”

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