Freedom of the press and the voice of the oppressed
COFFEE WITH WARREN, with Warren Harbeck
“The press is not only free, it is powerful,” declared the 19th Century British Prime Minister and statesman, Benjamin Disraeli.
Nelson Mandela would agree, and so would fans of Judge John Reilly.
“Truth does indeed have immense power,” Mandela said in an address to the International Press Institute Congress being held in his country on February 14, 1994, just three months before he was to become the first president of post-apartheid South Africa.
Mandela is one of my heroes. What he said in that speech renewed my faith in the important role of the media inside and outside a country in challenging injustice and bringing hope to the oppressed.
Speaking of the “extremely elusive” nature of truth, he continued:
“No single person, no body of opinion, no political or religious doctrine, no political party or government can claim to have a monopoly on truth. For that reason truth can be arrived at only through the untrammeled contest between and among competing opinions.”
He called any laws that place constraints on the free expression of ideas “a disservice to society,” and labelled such constraints “devices employed by falsehood to lend it strength in its unequal contest with truth.”
In welcoming representatives of the international media to South Africa, he expressed special appreciation for the support they provided his people in their struggle for democracy:
“During the darkest days of apartheid and political repression, when thousands of South African patriots faced imprisonment, bannings, house arrest, detention without trial, torture and even death, it was the international media . . . that laid bare the atrocious conditions in our country and kept the international community alive to the issue of apartheid.”
One effect of the outside media’s laying “bare the atrocious conditions” was to blow away the smoke screen of lies that had concealed the apartheid era’s evil from the rest of the world. With the truth revealed, other countries ceased empowering South Africa’s racist regime. The regime’s credibility on the world stage collapsed, sanctions were imposed, and financial investments dried up.
It was anything but an easy road that brought Mandela to the platform before the world media that day. His determined efforts to achieve an inclusive democracy for all black, white and coloured had cost him 27 years in prison, much of it at hard labour. Nor did he have universal support from his own community and family, many playing politics for their own self-aggrandizement and tribal agenda rather than looking to the good of their country as a whole.
But Mandela refused to give up in his efforts to heal his broken nation.
And in his address that Valentine’s Day, he shared with the international media the credit for helping bring about the new South Africa. They had made it possible for the voice of the oppressed to be heard around the world and for the rug to be pulled out from under the feet of their oppressors.
Here in the Bow Valley, we have an example of one of our own who has also made it possible for the voice of the oppressed to be heard far and wide.
Retired Alberta Provincial Court Judge John Reilly, drawing on his years of courtroom experience and personal friendships among the Stoney Nakoda First Nation at Morley, published a book recently that is grabbing attention inside and outside that community about which it is written.
In Bad Medicine, Reilly rises above political correctness to blow away the smoke screen of secrecy and silence that has kept hidden the social injustices and contempt for human rights that have characterized much of the recent governance of this First Nation west of Cochrane.
There’s already been extensive media coverage of his book, so I won’t go into details here.
But I will say this: that in my conversations with many from Morley who have looked eagerly into its pages, there is a consensus that at last their voices are being represented that in Judge John Reilly, like the people of the media praised by Nelson Mandela, the oppressed have found a spokesperson who is not afraid to embrace the freedom of the press to proclaim a powerful message of truth and hope.
© 2010 Warren Harbeck