Let freedom sting

May 03, 2001 12:00 am

Breathe in. Breathe out.

Taste that?

On any given day, to most of us it is colorless and odorless, but no less sweet.

Sometimes, it tastes rotten and leaves a heavy foul stench in the air.

But even then, at its very worst, its still bittersweet.

Freedom.

Some people pepper their conversation with the word, cry about a lack of it, long for more.

Others recognize the amazing degree of freedom Americans have won and fight daily to preserve and extend that freedom.

May 3 is World Press Freedom Day, marking the 10th anniversary of the Windhoek Declaration. That statement of principles written and signed by publishers, editors and journalists in Africa has helped spread the vigilance of and fight for a free press to a new continent.

Our nations struggle with the rights and responsibilities of a free press date back to its very inception, when rabble-rousing pamphleteers and newspapers helped stir the revolutionary furor.

But it is for these words, from the year 1789, that American journalists pay a debt daily: Congress shall make no law ... abridging the freedom of speech or of the press.

To the press alone, checkered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been obtained by reason and humanity over error and oppression, founder James Madison wrote.

More than two centuries later, however, the greatest experiment in history continues to struggle to prove the value of a free press to the world.

In a marketplace of ideas crowded with reality television, sensational celebrity news, talking heads and the mayhem of the moment, it is easy for the consumer of free information to become a touch jaded.

If that is you, stop for a moment and consider the words of two of the giants who stood on the stage of the 20th Century:

We are not afraid to entrust the American people with unpleasant facts, foreign ideas, alien philosophies and competitive values. For a nation that is afraid to let its people judge the truth and falsehood in an open market is afraid of its people.

John F. Kennedy

Why should freedom of speech and freedom of the press be allowed? Why should a government, which is doing what it believes to be right, allow itself to be criticized? It would not allow opposition by lethal weapons. Ideas are much more fatal things than guns. Why should any man be allowed to buy a printing press and disseminate pernicious opinion calculated to embarrass the government?

Vladimir Lenin

Thankfully, we dont have to stop and question which viewpoint to embrace. Some of our colleagues around the globe arent as lucky. Thats why the American news media so vehemently denounces regimes that would limit press freedoms.

Freedom is nothing else but a chance to be better, French philosopher Albert Camus once wrote, whereas enslavement is a certainty of the worse.