By Bob Osmond, President, RPG
The First Amendment of the United States constitution states, in part: “Congress shall make no law....abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble...”
In our work, we rely on relationships with the free press to help tell our clients’ stories. Even as the communications landscape has become disintermediated, and owned and paid storytelling have supplemented earned media within “PR” firms, traditional media remains the most trusted source of information for most. At RPG, we collaborate with members of the media to tell stories about technology’s role in improving people’s lives. While the relationship between media and PR folks isn’t always frictionless (see: “PR Flack”), we have a joined interest in ensuring that information is shared accurately, broadly and freely.
We also consider it our mission to help shape conversations that matter. The freedom and safety of the press is an urgent and important conversation.
Over the course of the past several years, we have witnessed verbal and physical attacks on our colleagues in the media, those who take up the vocation of journalism (I don’t believe it’s only a “job” for many). Things move so quickly—the news cycle shifts in seconds, not minutes, from calamity to calamity—one can be forgiven for losing track. However, we mustn’t move on. We must pay attention.
Pew Research does very good work tracking attitudes toward media and RSF/Reporters Without Borders actively reports on attitudes toward a free press. Sadly, the 2019 World Press Freedom Index showed that hatred of journalists has degenerated into violence, increasing fear. The number of countries where journalists can work freely and safely is in decline. “If the political debate slides surreptitiously or openly towards a civil war-style atmosphere, in which journalists are treated as scapegoats, then democracy is in great danger,” RSF secretary-general Christophe Deloire said. “Halting this cycle of fear and intimidation is a matter of the utmost urgency for all people of good will who value the freedoms acquired in the course of history.”
Here in the United States, attacks against the press, alternatively referred to as “fake news” or the “enemy of the people,” continue. We have seen this in stark relief in recent days, as protests against systemic racism rage on in the cities and streets of America. There are too many videos and stories to count as we’ve witnessed journalists—clearly identified and on the job—pelted with rubber bullets, pepper sprayed or gassed.
The events of recent days have called for moral clarity. At RPG, we condemn racism in all its forms and we commit to listen, to learn, and to take real action to tackle and right longstanding injustices and inequities in our society. Just as we stand firm against systemic racism, we must stand in solidarity with our colleagues in the media. As NPR’s Mary Louise Kelly wrote in January of this year, “there is a reason that freedom of the press is enshrined in the constitution.”
About the Author
Bob Osmond is President of Racepoint Global.