Press must fairly report on good, bad and ugly

Published 8:55 pm Wednesday, December 16, 2015

By James G. Smith

Some of our basic freedoms are delineated in the First Amendment to the Constitution. Two of those, the right to free speech and of the press, is essential to our Democratic Republic. Freedom of the press was thought to be, and rightfully so, a watchdog of government and elected officials serving in high offices. It was a mechanism whereby the general public could be informed as to the workings of government and those elected to serve. Another way of saying it is, the free press could and should shine a light on the darkness or veil of secrecy surrounding politics and power.

The founding fathers recognized the importance of being open and transparent in doing the people’s business. As Thomas Jefferson so aptly stated to Archibald Stuart in 1799: “Our citizens may be deceived for awhile, and have been deceived; but as long as the presses can be protected, we may trust to them for light.”

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“The Founding Fathers gave the free press the protection it must have to bare the secrets of government and inform the people,” said associate U.S. Supreme Court Justice and Alabama native Hugo Black.

According to a Pew Research Center survey on “People and the Press” in 2003 found most Americans believe the news organizations are politically biased. By a margin of 53 to 29 percent those surveyed held that belief. Also, by about the same margin 51 to 26 percent think the news media is  “liberal.” I suspect if the same survey were taken today the margins would be even more pronounced. It has become so obvious, it is difficult to deny.

I believe the responsibility and duty of the press is to investigate, question, probe and ferret out graft, corruption, wrongdoing, and fool hearty ventures and report the good, bad and ugly accurately and objectively to the public it serves.

I was pleased to see the Selma Times-Journal weigh in on the salary increases for the Selma Water Board in the Friday, Dec. 11 edition. It is a perfect example of the press fulfilling its mission of looking out for the people, something the city council and water board are failing to do. In my column “Month has been important one for city” on Wednesday, Sept. 30, I came out against doubling the water board’s salaries.

It is the same old problem, politicians even at the city level think there is an endless cash cow to exploit. One word comes to mind for the action taken by the city council, shameful. It hurts all the people of Selma. I would like to see more scrutiny placed on other issues as well.

A press that questions nothing, does a disservice to the people it purports to serve.