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Democracy suffers when information is blocked

News coverage of recent arrests, detention or threats of charges, sadly, appear to be just the latest attempts to silence media and the free flow of information that journalists provide around the world.

Here are a few of the latest frightening examples — including one in America that seems suspiciously like an attempt to send a message to journalists.

The LA Times reported this month that when the Dodgers won the World Series last October, celebrations in that city devolved into vandalism, theft and tense standoffs between revelers and police.

Los Angeles Police ordered fans to disperse, and 18 people were arrested.

Freelance journalist Lexis-Olivier Ray, who covered the chaos for news website L.A. Taco, was not arrested, but then last month he received a letter threatening criminal charges for his alleged failure to disperse that night.

According to the LA Times, free press advocates now are questioning whether threat of arrest is retaliation for a viral video apparently showing heavy-handed tactics used by LAPD that night.

The Times reports that Lexis-Olivier Ray was the only person among hundreds in the streets now being threatened with charges for failing to disperse. That, says Joel Bellman of the Greater Los Angeles chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists, could trigger a “severe chilling effect on his future reporting.”

Rob Wilcox, a spokesman for Los Angeles City Atty. Mike Feuer, declined to comment on why the office pursued a case against a journalist, and Capt. Stacy Spell, a department spokesman, did not say why officers declined to arrest or cite Ray at the time but later chose to pursue charges against him and only him.

To be clear, I was not in LA for the World Series, and I am not privy to the investigation, so I can only share what has been reported by other media.

There are other similar examples that we’ve all seen it on TV and read it in the newspapers.

Law enforcement officials in Minneapolis and elsewhere have been criticized after taking action against reporters covering protests following George Floyd’s killing. In one instance, a CNN reporter was arrested on live television. Just this month, prosecutors in Iowa put a Des Moines Register reporter on trial after she was arrested covering protests last year. The reporter was acquitted.

And all that is in America.

While it’s no less problematic, this type of treatment is generally more expected outside U.S. borders.

The Associated Press reported March 19 that two journalists were detained in Myanmar, part of a growing effort to choke off information about resistance to a Feb. 1 coup.

In all, about 40 journalists have been arrested there since the coup. About half are still in detention, the AP reports.

The latest detainees were taken by men who appeared to be plainclothes security outside a court in the capital of Naypyitaw. These journalists were simply doing their jobs when they were captured. They had come to cover legal proceedings against a detained senior official from the National League for Democracy, the party that ran the country before the takeover.

The coup reversed years of progress toward democracy after five decades of military rule. Since then, security forces have fired on crowds, killing hundreds. Internet access has been restricted, private newspapers have been barred from publishing, and protesters, journalists and politicians have been arrested in large numbers.

Sadly, amid a crackdown on the press, no privately owned newspapers were published this past week there for the first time in eight years. The military government also has banned at least five local news organizations from disseminating information on any platform, although its orders were mostly ignored.

Restrictions on the internet also have been enacted since the coup, including blocking mobile internet access.

Indeed, the situation is bleak and getting worse as the free flow of accurate news information is cut off, leaving release of reports to the strict control of government.

Indeed, the information is knowledge and especially critical to democracy. As the Washington Post slogan so aptly states, “Democracy dies in darkness.”

blinert@tribtoday.com

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