December 15, 2008

Still need some work on that free press thing.

Interesting event in Baghdad over the weekend.

Seems an Iraqi journalist threw shoes at President Bush during the president's unannounced visit. (Throwing  shoes or showing the bottom of your shoes to someone is considered an insult.)

The journalist, Muntadhar al-Zaidi is with Egypt-based al Baghdadia television.

al-Zaidi shouted, "This is farewell -- you dog," and "You killed Iraquis," as he threw the shoes.

Security forces quickly surrounded him and dragged him from the room.

Bush quipped, "That was a size 10 shoe he threw at me."

al-Zaidi was kidnapped November 2007 on his way to work in Baghdad and released three days later.

An SPJ colleague now on active duty in Iraq sent a note about the event, saying his earlier praise for the efforts for more freedom of the press should not be seen as supporting shoe throwing, but...

"If I had to choose between last night's incident or going back to the utter void of press freedom under Saddam. I'm prepared to put up with a little shoe-throwin'."

So why raise this in a journalism professor blog? Aren't we all about teaching AP style and honing those interviewing and writing skills?

Yes, but...

Our students need to understand that freedom of the press and speech is not aboslute, no matter what the First Amendment says. (BTW, happy anniversary Bill of RIghts. Today in 1791 the BIll of Rights was ratified.)

Our students should also understand how difficult it is for journalists raised in one form of press rules ("Say what the government tells you to say or you die.") have to work in another. ("Report the facts fairly and accurately and let the readers decide.") And all the versions in between and in reverse. (I still recall the shock from neophytes to China that Beijing might engage in censorship of Western media as well as their own.)

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