Famous newscaster and reporter Walter Cronkite said freedom of the press is not just important, it is democracy. Mahatma Gandhi said freedom of the press is a precious privilage that no country can forgo.
Or maybe it’s the words of Martin Luther King that we hear, who said our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.
Just this week China has introduced a new national security law for Hong Kong and lawyers and legal experts globally say these laws will fundamentally change the territory's legal system as the legislation gives Beijing extensive powers it has never had before to shape life in the territory far beyond the legal system.
Experts identified what they consider to be a number of worrying aspects. Article 29 is perhaps an example of the broadly worded criminal provisions, stating that anyone who conspires with foreigners to provoke "hatred" of the Chinese government, or the authorities in Hong Kong, could have committed a criminal offence. Nation after nation, including New Zealand, has condemned this new law.
Simple freedom of speech for those living in Hong Kong has been legislated against; ith a broad brush stroke of the law, it is now criminal to speak against the Communist Party, and to conspire with “foreigners” to speak against the Party.
Scary times indeed for those living in Hong Kong who have enjoyed this freedom. And it is a freedom we in the Pacific, and in most developed democracies, enshrine and uphold as a clear indication of the health and wellbeing of our democracy.
Listening again to the debate and reading the transcript that caused this controversy on freedom of the press at home, it is clear and undisputed that the MP from Aitutaki used Parliamentary Question Time to seek the payment of a spousal allowance,
And maybe that’s where this conversation should be focused. Because it is a reasonable question for the public and the media to ask: during a critical time such as this pandemic when so many are feeling the bite economically, why would any elected official would take up the time of Parliament with an issue that is simply self-serving?
An issue that is so far from the pain being felt by so many, and instead focused on the privilege and entitlement of one’s spouse when both are travelling at the taxpayer’s cost.
For that MP to then publicly offer a pay cut and have this distributed on national and international news agencies seems a little late, a little hand in the cookie jar and somewhat disingenuous.
This is newsworthy. And as a Health Minister here in New Zealand resigns for a number of pubic reasons, one cannot but consider the scrutiny of public servants and our elected officials and what role the newspaper and the press have in reporting that to the wider community.
Because as public officials there is an expectation, and rightfully so, of doing the right thing – as much as there is an expectation that our press and media do the right thing and report the news accurately and with truth balanced with responsibility.
I am thankful that the Speaker of the House made the decision she did because in that decision she has preserved the integrity of the Cook Islands Parliament and the dignity of freedom of the press in Cook Islands.
And for all to consider that balance of freedom and responsibilities attached to it. The editor of Cook Islands News has taken responsibility for the headline and this shows an acceptance of responsibility for one’s words and actions.
And the MP that instigated all this?
Love or loathe them, the press is a necessity as are its freedom to report the news.
And for those of us that read it, a sense that it must be unhindered and interfered with by anything other than its own global and collective media responsibilities, its values and ethics it is bound by, and regard for this freedom it has been given.
From time to time, the media must be held to account, but never should it be restrained, muzzled or controlled, as Hong Kong is now experiencing.