Free and costly press

Free and costly press

On Monday, President Obama signed the Daniel Pearl Freedom of the Press Act.

Readers may recall Pearl’s brutal murder in Pakistan eight years ago – and indeed, how could they not? The young Wall Street Journal reporter’s last words, whether coerced or an expression of his faith, are unforgettable: “I am a Jew. My father is a Jew.” (According to some sources, he said, “My mother is a Jew.” We wouldn’t know; we could not bear to watch the tape of his beheading that his murderers sent around the world.)

Pearl was killed because he was Jewish, and only secondarily because he was a journalist. But he was a dedicated journalist who ventured into dangerous territory to track down a story. He would not have been killed if he had not been doing his job, and it is fitting that the Freedom of the Press Act bears his name.

What the act does, Obama said at the signing, in the presence of Pearl’s family, is send “a strong message from the United States government and from the State Department that we are paying attention to how other governments are operating when it comes to the press. It has the State Department each year chronicling how press freedom is operating as one component of our human rights assessment, but it also looks at countries that are – governments that are -specifically condoning or facilitating this kind of press repression, singles them out, and subjects them to the gaze of world opinion in ways that I think are extraordinarily important.”

We think so too – and read that as a not-so-veiled reference to Iran, which imprisons journalists and other truth-tellers with impunity.

Meanwhile, à propos of the press, it seems that Israel never misses an opportunity to get bad media attention. Denying entry to persistent critic Noam Chomsky was misguided. It has handed ammunition to those who depict Israel as an apartheid and totalitarian state, and it has expanded, rather than limited, his platform, for now he will deliver his planned lecture at Bir Zeit University by a videoconference that will be broadcast on Al Jazeera. Not smart.