When fear trumps the truth
Of course, these rights are not absolute. There are situations where the government might be able to abridge the rights of the press to publish without penalty, and our civil code can provide remedies when the press knowingly publishes slander or libel.
But there is another component that is just as important to the free press as the right to put words to paper — or computer.
That component is obtaining accurate information. But often, fear of retaliation or retribution shuts down those resources, which in turn, prevents the entire truth from emerging.
Several stories we have followed this year, and are still following, have been limited by the existence of fear.
While the possibility of retribution for revealing uncomfortable facts exists everywhere, in small communities such as Dare and Currituck, the issue seems to be magnified.
We are often approached with requests to “look into” issues surrounding town and county governments. But the people with first-hand information refuse to go on the record.
Why? Think of how often a local businessperson may be forced to appear before a town or county body. Attorneys, engineers, architects, restaurant owners and dozens of other people in the business world must often appear before planning boards, boards of commissioners and other groups.
Obviously, some business owners fear decisions made by these bodies could be influenced if they go public with their political concerns. However, without strong witnesses willing to speak freely or turn over documents, many stories languish while the media attempts to verify the information via other means.
For employees of government, the same fear exists. There are several stories we continue to investigate where we have been provided information that not only corroborate stories we have written in the past, the information could “bring down the house” if we could get those individuals on the record.
But few are going to risk their jobs, income and family welfare sticking their political necks out for someone to chop off. My next JMO piece will deal specifically with one such example.
Edmund Burke once said: “The only thing necessary for the triumph (of evil) is for good men to do nothing.”
But good men and women also like to keep their jobs and pay their bills.
I wish more people would be willing to speak out. If so, much of the political shenanigans that pervade Dare County would see the light of day.
Until such time, the ability of the media to serve as a check and balance on the government will, like government itself, continue to grind slowly.
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