How do we define patriotism? According to Oxford Languages, it’s: “devotion to and vigorous support for one’s country.” Who is representative of the country? A government or its citizens? Is a patriot a civilian that conspires against his fellow citizens, spies on them to benefit their government, or one that is ready to put their lives on the line to protect them? All around the world, investigative journalists have endangered themselves in order to deliver the truth to the rest of us, only to be called traitors, shunned and exiled or even killed. Article 19 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights is the following: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.” Despite this, UNESCO estimates that a journalist was killed every four days in the last decade. Investigative journalism is under attack, and it is our duty, as a society, to demand that our freedom of press is respected. This article is written in honour of every single journalist that has suffered or died for the truth, our unsung heroes.
Firstly, let us talk about one of the most intrepid journalists that paved the way for investigative journalism all around the world, the late Neil Sheehan, who passed away on January 7th, 2021. He got a hold on the Pentagon Papers and destroyed the American government’s web of lies about the Vietnam war, or rather the Vietnam massacre. He wrote “A Bright Shining Lie: John Paul Vann and America in Vietnam” in 1988, remembering every American that has died fighting for their government’s lack of knowledge, and all of the Vietnamese civilians that died in the crossfires of this slaughter. When receiving a Pulitzer for the book, he said: “But if to report now be called theft, and if to publish now be called treason, then so be it. Let God give us the courage to commit more of the same.” He makes an extremely compelling point. Let us use our brains to decide what is moral and immoral, disregarding laws for a moment. Why is murdering in the name of a country honorable, but daring to risk your life to offer your fellow citizens the truth punishable by death? Is this who we want to be? Silent observers standing by in submission while we allow leaders all around the world to commit atrocities because we do not dare to speak our minds?
Secondly, it would be impossible to talk about investigative journalists without mentioning Julian Assange, founder of WikiLeaks, a non-profit organization that publishes leaked documents and classified media onto their website. On January 4th, a British judge blocked his extradition. This was qualified as a win for Assange, but not for freedom of press nor journalism, according to Kristinn Hrafnsson, the Editor-in Chief of Wikileaks. Assange’s organization has published over 75 000 classified documents concerning America’s occupation in Afghanistan. The archive allows anonymous sources to submit leaks concerning any government or officials. It paved the way for a new era of whistleblowing, and of freedom of press. Judge Snow, who found him guilty on charges of failing to surrender to the court, described him as: “a narcissist who cannot get beyond his own selfish interest”, which I find unbelievable funny and ironic. This is a man that has risked everything in the name of truth, gave up a peaceful life with his two children to give us readers the privilege of knowing what atrocities corrupt governments have committed in their quest for power fueled by lust for money and blood. It is the very definition of selflessness. Assange’s lawyer claims that his case “is not at all a criminal case. It’s purely, uniquely a political one.” He continues to serve his sentence in HMP Belmarsh, in England.
As we continue to live our mundane lives in denial and comfort, some people arm themselves with guns to protect their governments, and others arm themselves with the truth to protect humanity.
In memory of Neil Sheehan, Namir Noor-Eldeen, Elyas Dayee, Jorge Miguel Armenta Ávalos, Lourenço Veras, Luis Alonzo Almendares, Maria Elena Ferral Hernández,
Nabil Hasan al- Quaety, Jobert Bercasio, Rahmatullah Nikzad & every journalist that has lost their lives in the line of duty.
Visit https://cpj.org/ for more information on the risks of journalism.
By Meriem Terzi