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A day to remember why we do this

By Joel Wittnebel/The Oshawa Express

The power of local community news reporting is something widely overlooked in today’s age of Instagram, Twitter and the selfie-generation, and on this day, International Press Freedom Day (May 3), I want to highlight for you, reader, the value of the pieces of newsprint you hold in your hands.

The paper may be thin, but the words printed herein are strong and robust, keeping not only your city and regional councillors in line and accountable, but making sure that what they do reaches outside the small echo chamber of the council floor. As a well known comedian once said, leaving politicians alone in the chamber is like leaving a classroom of seventh graders alone in the classroom to attend to themselves – you don’t know what they would get up to.

We tell good news stories too, making sure that Oshawa is aware that it’s not all council hypocrisy and hidden reports.

However, the ability to do this job in Oshawa and all across the world has never been more difficult than it is in 2017.

Bear with me for a minute, we need to talk some numbers, then we’ll get to the good stuff.

According to the recently released Press Freedom Rankings from Reporters Without Borders (RSF), Canada has slipped out of the top 20. In fact, the decline marked a second straight yearly slip for the Great White North, falling four spots to the 22nd position (on top of the 10 spots dropped last year) out of the 180 countries ranked. Norway took the top spot with North Korea at the bottom. The United States fell to the 43rd position, marking a two-spot decline from the year before.

It’s a similar trend observed in many countries by RSF and is illustrative of the “increasingly fragile” state of media freedom throughout the world. In fact, two-thirds of the countries measured in the rankings dropped positions, and according to metrics from Freedom House, another agency that measures press freedom throughout the world, global press freedom is at its lowest point in over a decade, and estimates show that just 13 per cent of the world’s population lives under a free press.

There aren’t any draconian dictators kicking down the doors of The Oshawa Express because of our coverage, but that still doesn’t mean this newspaper doesn’t face its own obstacles while putting together news stories, and that there aren’t threats much closer to home.

What is happening south of border and the constant attack on the media and journalists is frightening for those working in the industry. The epitaphs of “fake news” and “alternatives facts” are wolves in sheep’s clothing. They are a wedge, pushing an ever increasing amount of distrust between journalists and the very people they are trying to serve, and they may just be words, but the actions that follows those words are as much a threat to media freedom as anything else.

With that said, community newspapers will always have a role to play in the news ecosystem, and while not everyone likes to read about council actions or local sports, it is the freedom of the press that allows us to do those very things, and something this day sets out to celebrate.

Supporting a local newspaper is a move toward supporting a free press, and while the threats may not be right outside our door, they do exist.

So, read our articles, share them, discuss them, give feedback on them – that’s why we journalists do what we do, and it’s why we will continue to do it, despite the threats.