Monday, June 1, 2009

Remembering what's important

By David Ubben

Engraved in the cement outside the entrance to the Poynter Institute are 45 words that allow us to do our jobs as journalists.

Those same 45 words crawl down the wall in the main lobby of The Oklahoman, where I’ll be working this summer. Most understand its basic principle, but few can recite further than the first four words:
Congress shall make no law.

It doesn’t take a genius to see why those four words begin the document that cemented the foundations of our country.

The First Amendment is bigger than journalism. It allows us to believe what we want, exercise those beliefs, and inform those in power why those beliefs matter, religious or otherwise, without fear of being bullied by our government.

I love that I have an opportunity to work inside a pair of places that recognize the importance of that privilege. Last spring I saw a documentary called “Burma VJ” about a group of video journalists who documented the September 2007 uprising against the Burmese government. To get their message to the public, they had to capture images of government brutality and suppression in secret, shot through their sleeves or plastic bags, and then either smuggle tapes out of the country or find a place where the government had not shut down Internet access to upload the images onto a global server. They knew that the government there could detain, with no warning, those seen as threats—and some are never seen again.

I love working in this field. If you asked me, I’d tell you I’m passionate about it. But if you placed the same conditions on me as those facing the journalists in Burma,

I am not sure I would continue doing this job. If I want to do a story, I find or call the necessary people, speak to them and write. For others, completing that process means risking their lives.

We live in a nation that believes open communication between those in power and those they represent is essential to a successful society. It’s great to walk into a pair of places every day that make sure we remember that not every country operates under that standard.

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