John Fahey: 2012 First Amendment Awards Dinner Remarks

Thank you, Tony.

The news media tell us stories of global significance that are read in cities far away … and the stories of small communities that resonate around the world.

Some of these stories are told by long-established traditional outlets -- others by individuals acting on their own.  In either case, thanks to new technologies, this reporting is no longer a one-way street.  

Things have a way of building quick momentum, as we at National Geographic have recently seen in the groundswell of interest around the poaching crisis in Africa, written about — outstandingly--by Jeffrey Gettleman in the New York Times, closely followed by the release of National Geographic’s October cover story written by Bryan Christy, which investigates the role religious art plays in the demand for poached ivory.  A combination of traditional news outlets, social media and religious leaders themselves are now putting enormous pressure on the demand side of this situation.

So obviously, tools available to reporters and audiences today can amplify both reach and impact. Frontiers that once seemed all but insurmountable are now conquered instantaneously. 

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary took a photo of his guide, Tenzig Norgay, at the summit of Mt. Everest. The photo was taken May 29, but the news of their achievement didn’t reach the UK until June 2 – which, coincidentally, was the coronation day of Queen Elizabeth.

This past May, a National Geographic team also reached the summit of Mt. Everest and took pictures. But you didn’t have to wait several days to learn about it. You could have followed the expedition in real-time on your iPad, you might have seen photos from the climbers on Instagram, you could have talked to the team through a live Google hangout, and read continuous updates from the mountain on Twitter.  

How exciting…..

Around the world, people once isolated by geography or ideology now have the ability to get news from sources other than state-owned media outlets. And as we saw vividly during the Arab Spring, technology has empowered people to show the world what’s happening behind their borders.

Tomorrow marks the 10th annual International Right to Know Day. As we gather here to celebrate achievements in defending our own First Amendment, it’s worth noting that many nations around the world are drafting their first free press and information laws – and they are looking to us for inspiration.

The right to free expression is classified as a basic human right in Article 19 of the UN’s Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference and to seek, receive and impart information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.”

It is those frontiers of information that we must protect, for as we also know, there are those around the world – and right here at home – who seek to deny that right … some by legislation, others by subtle intimidation and sometimes more violent actions that leave journalists dead and embassies in flames.

Thank you all for helping us ensure we can continue to freely explore our world, and for supporting free press organizations like the Reporters Committee.

I’d like to now introduce my dinner co-chair, Katharine Weymouth.

Katharine …..