With more information comes growth

Criticism comes frequently my business, sometimes from people accusing journalists of going too far in reporting details that they believe border on sensationalism or cross the line of what should be considered public information.

Nowadays some critics simply take to social media to share anger with the media with their online friends and followers. It often appears their goal is not to confront the journalist in any real attempt to get answers about why we do what we do, but rather they somehow hope to “win” by creating a forum to commiserate or turn people against the media.

By doing so, though, they unwittingly reinforce the value of free speech and the First Amendment that protects freedoms of the press.

Let’s take a moment to consider the world without the critical role of the media and the free speech that we Americans espouse.

It was mid-March when a gunman opened fire inside two New Zealand mosques killing 50 people.

The world watched in horror the news videos and read voraciously the news reports that followed. Most consumers of news particularly were engrossed in the details about 28-year-old Brenton Tarrant, the Australian man charged with the murders. As the story unfolded, it was revealed and reported by the media that the accused shooter had written and released a 74-page manifesto in advance of the attacks.

Certainly, the words in his manifesto should serve as insight and eye-opening warnings to the ugliness that exists in this world.

Rather than allowing New Zealanders to be outraged and educated, New Zealand’s government has taken a wholly different approach, apparently attempting to whisk away the brutality of this incident out of memory and somehow out of reality. Within days after the massacre, New Zealand’s Chief Censor David Shanks banned the 74-page manifesto. Anyone caught with the document on his / her computer could face up to 10 years in prison. Anyone caught sending it could face 14 years.

Shanks says Tarrant’s manifesto contains justifications for acts of tremendous cruelty like killing children and encourages acts of terrorism, even outlining specific places to target and methods to carry out attacks.

The Associated Press reported that Shanks acknowledged he worried that banning the document might draw more attention to it.

Still, they decided to treat it the same way as propaganda from groups like the Islamic State, which they also have banned.

Ironically, New Zealanders remain free to read Adolf Hitler’s autobiography, “Mein Kampf.”

Those arguing against the bans maintain that Tarrant’s manifesto provides the greatest insight into his character and thinking, with his neighbors and acquaintances recalling nothing particularly remarkable about him.

The writings provide education and knowledge — not to influence readers to become followers, but so they can be informed of the darkness that exists in our world today so we may be aware and prepared.

“People are more confident of each other and their leaders when there is no room left for conspiracy theories, when nothing is hidden,” Stephen Franks, a constitutional lawyer and spokesman for the Free Speech Coalition told the Associated Press for a story on the topic. “The damage and risks are greater from suppressing these things than they are from trusting people to form their own conclusions and to see evil or madness for what it is.”

It should frighten all of us when the power of knowledge and education is regulated by one person or group that dictates what information any human being may access or is capable of handling. Such censorship is a slippery slope that can quickly get out of control.

And as for the value of the factual — yet sometimes unsavory — details we journalists report every day, consider this:

A now retired, well-respected journalist who I had the pleasure of working with briefly at the onset of my career recently shared this simple Facebook post.

“First, they came for the journalists. No one knows what happened after that.”

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