The catch phrases are difficult to ignore: “right to know”, “no to censorship”, “freedom of the press”, “don’t gag the media”. Though the colour black might be quite trendy today and #BlackTuesday will be trending on Twitter, it’s important that we look a little deeper and not be distracted by the fanfare – even as we all dress like waiters, bouncers and Goths.
We the media often portray this as our battle and at times purport to be the sole victim when the truth is that the only victim here is you, dear citizen, the one who buys our newspapers, who visits our websites and who tunes into our news bulletins.
You’re the victim not because we won’t be able to tell you who screwed whom or who got tender-rich overnight. No, you’re the victim because you will be denied those everyday truths that make up the world we live in. Simple snippets of information that form the basis of our reality will be almost impossible to find. Our cash-strapped media houses don’t have the money to go to court to every time they need to gain information under the current Act. We would have to contend with “information officers” who are full of everything but information. They are an oxymoron just waiting to happen.
Yes, information is the lifeblood of journalism. This is what we do, we disseminate information in what we believe is, the public interest. Sometimes we get it wrong. By passing the Protection of State Information Bill today, government is not so much gagging the media as it is blindfolding you, not from the sensational, but from the mundane like Records of Decisions, environmental impact studies and task team reports. A nation of blind followers is easier to control, easier to influence – more subservient. When the only reality you know is the one created for you by misinformation, lies and denials, what reason do you have to challenge the status quo? The lack of a public interest clause in the Bill means any whistle-blower faces certain jail, so who would dare cross the line?
The people of Libya, Egypt and Tunisia were fed lies from the mouths of corrupt politicians and dictators. They lived and breathed the fallacies presented to them for decades by state-owned media houses. Only truth broke that spell, and it wasn’t the media who spurred it on. It was ordinary citizens who simply decided to stop believing the lies from a government that was running out of excuses. They found a common cause and disseminated their own version of the truth through social media and the foreign press; the same truth that Anton Hammerl and scores of other journalists died pursuing.
We understand that there is information in the hands of government that would genuinely affect national security but a government that denies basic truths and openness is a government that is saying it is not accountable to you and me as citizens. So how do we trust them? How do we believe anything they say from now on? How do we know if they have our interests at heart?
By now you’re probably wondering what the big secret is. Well, there isn’t one. You clicked on this link out of curiosity or a need for knowledge. It is a basic human function that has propelled our species to greatness. The pursuit of knowledge has inspired us and helped us become better at what we do - survive. The hunger for truth has brought about democracy, toppled dictators, destroyed lives and saved millions more. How dare you let anyone take that away from you?