Attacks on journalists are an attack on freedom and must not be tolerated

Published 3:23 pm Thursday, January 8, 2015

On Wednesday, the world was shocked and appalled by the deplorable attacks at the Paris office of the French satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo. Twelve men and women were murdered for expressing their freedom of speech. Sadly, it is not an isolated incident.

In August, journalist James Foley was beheaded in Syria after being held captive for nearly two years. In September, a gruesome video released by terrorists showed freelance journalist Steven Sotloff beheaded.

It has become a disturbing trend for radicals and terrorists to target journalists. These attacks challenge the value of free speech at its core. Worldwide, there have been more than 60 journalists killed and over 100 kidnapped in the past year. This is unacceptable. It cannot continue. Every attack on the press is an attack on all of our freedom.

A free press is a vital and integral part of any free society. Even in our country, we have seen steps taken to limit and outright prevent the media from doing its job.

In 2013, the newspaper industry was shocked to learn the U.S. Department of Justice seized reporters’ personal records and phone logs. New York Times reporter James Risen has faced the threat of jail time for more than a year because of his unwillingness to divulge the names of confidential sources.

The newspaper industry has always fought for the rights of journalists and we will continue to do so. In late 2013, the Senate Judiciary Committee passed the Free Flow of Information Act – commonly referred to as the Shield Law – that would protect reporters from being compelled to testify about sources. Unfortunately, the bill has remained stalled and did not come up for a floor vote during the last Congress.

There is a reason that free speech was protected in our Constitution’s First Amendment. As Thomas Jefferson wrote, “The most effectual hitherto found, is the freedom of the press. It is, therefore, the first shut up by those who fear the investigation of their actions.”

Our free speech is now being threatened. The satire found in Charlie Hebdo pages is no different than plays, televisions shows and other works of art used to challenge authority. We cannot let terrorists and extremists prevent free speech from being expressed.

Free speech is a right that we all must defend. Journalists put themselves in harm’s way every day to report about government corruption, war and human suffering.

The outpouring of support following this tragedy serves as a reminder about how important journalism is in our daily lives, as evidenced by the millions of Parisians and others taking to the streets around the world. These journalists deserve our respect and praise. These journalists deserve to be protected and live without fear of retribution.