Press freedom is more precious than ever when leaders show autocratic tendencies

Editorial: When one of our own journalists was arrested, we didn’t expect it to be in a rich, democratic nation whose constitution protects free speech

Friday 03 July 2020 01:38 BST

When the phone rings with news of a reporter being arrested, certain members of staff spring immediately to mind. The Independent has people based permanently in countries with poor records for jailing journalists. We often send correspondents into hostile environments such as war zones and coups. There are events to be recorded and important stories to be reported. You can’t cover everything from behind a desk, and risks can be minimised and managed to some degree.

But this one was different. You don’t naturally expect the jailed journalist in question to be in America, the land of the free, a nation rightly proud of its First Amendment, with its reverence for long-established institutions from The New York Times to the Associated Press; a country where movies are made about investigative missions and scoops and holding power to account; where Watergate is just one of a number of journalistic achievements held so widely and so rightly in the highest regard.

And once we had adjusted to the shock of this out-of-hours call coming from the United States, one of the last places in America that we would have expected to hear from would have been Seattle, with its liberal air. Yet it was in Seattle that an Independent staff correspondent was jailed on 1 July while doing his job. We will let Andrew Buncombe tell his own story in his own time – he has earnt that – but let us take the opportunity to consider more generally what this incident tells us about journalism around the world and in the US in particular.

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