FREEDOM OR JUSTICE? THIS IS THE QUESTION
An analysis of the ethical issues of a journalist, reporting on human rights violations.
In our society, the concept of truth is ideally associated with the concept of justice; the truth is profoundly rooted in justice. Telling the truth often allows you to reveal what it is unjust or unfair and it sets you free from the agony that comes with secrets and lies. Even though we can only aim to objectivity, journalists thrive on seeking the truthiness of facts to pursue justice. But if generally denouncing crimes against human rights, perpetuated in a country by its own government against its people, seems to be morally correct; for someone, who was able to escape from that country and therefore who has everything to lose, unfolding the veil over a life of pain and oppression, marked by fears and threats, may jeopardise his entire existence and convict him to the same absence of possibility and choice that he was suffering previously. Once David Foster Wallace said: “The truth will set you free. But not until it has finished with you”. The possibility to do justice for many doesn’t really matter if the source of the information will be enslaved or will enslave his dearest by his own truth. Sometimes freedom and justice don't come together, especially for those who have to choose between freedom as individual autonomy and justice as a social good. Hence I ask myself when does the individual freedom and happiness has overcome the freedom of the collectivity? Where does the demarcation line between freedom and justice has been moved? I am wondering whether the media should be silent and renounce to tell the stories of those who finally escaped from an atrocious condition where human rights are trampled on every day only to protect the freedom of few.
I was working on an article for my portfolio and one of the stories that I wanted to write about was related to immigration and freedom of movement. My source was a person from Cuba in Latin America. The reason why I wanted to talk about this topic is related to the fact that I went to Havana recently and I had the opportunity to talk with local people and experience their daily life. I saw with my own eyes the smiley masks of those who are trying to hide the pain tied to the precariousness of the Cuban population’s living conditions while children are begging for water and food on the streets. The continuous and insistent helpfulness and hospitality towards others conceal a desire to open up to the world and to pour out all those words hidden by the absence of freedom of speech while waiting for someone else to reach out to them. The perilous conditions of crumbling buildings held up with few wood sticks and balconies collapsed due to lack of maintenance disclose a struggling economy that is relentlessly fighting against American capitalism.
I have heard the story of those whose small family businesses, as only real sources of income, remain illegal because it has no federal approval. The voices of those who ardently desire to go away from their misery but who cannot achieve their dreams because their government won’t let them leave are still echoing in my mind. My tour guide, I will call him Julio, still lives there with his wife and his son who is one and a half years old. During my permanence, he took me around with his vintage car; although it could appear such a fancy object for his pocket, the conditions of its interiors would suggest a lack of funds that does not allow his owner to keep the car in optimal conditions. While driving, he liked to tell me stories of his beloved Havana and the history of Cuba, representing an ecosystem of artistic and cultural wonders. But when my questions were trying to dig deeper, the smile that characterised that cheerful face was veiled by a gloom of melancholy and sorrow. He told me that the average salary for a Cuban is around 20/25 pesos which is basically what he spends to buy diapers in a month for his son. This is why many people have their own activities, often illegal because the government does not allow the population to receive more than a certain amount of money.
He graduated in tourism management; in fact, he immediately showed great acumen and ability in his work. He told me that thanks to his qualification, he could work in a hotel and earn more money; but even in the most luxurious hotels, illegalities, such as raising prices on goods for tourists, are often operated by their own managers as they allow the staff to earn a surplus on their usual income, of course, off the record. This would lead him to risk of being jailed; as once Mandela said: “When a man is denied the right to live the life he believes in, he has no choice but to become an outlaw”. Therefore he said that he prefers to work with his own company, praising a sense of moral satisfaction. Even a continuing academic course does not lead to employability: it is true that schools are free for citizens because the state pays for their education but to pay the debt they owe to the state, people are very often forced to do jobs that are not functionally related to their degree. Besides the validity of these certificates is only recognised within their country but not abroad, which implies the necessity of passing some exams to revaluate those qualifications in a foreign language if they want to work in another country.
To complete the picture, Cuban citizens cannot leave their country unless they fall into certain categories. There is no freedom of movement like we know it. Julio told me that his parents were able to get an approved visa to live in America, but he can’t go to see them. Only people who are in a certain age group can apply to leave the country. And that’s how her parents were able to apply for an asylum permit in America but for “Julio” and his family the chance to pursue a more prosperous future does not exist, not now at least; so while waiting for her parents to get the green card, Julio lives transporting tourists from one place to another with his car, often staying hours away without even taking a break, without calling his family. His dedication to his job and his honesty, no matter how economically motivated he was, has shown how much resilience and willpower the Cuban people have and how hard they work to achieve their goals. While he was showing me some pictures of his little baby and his beautiful wife, Julio revealed to me that he also suffers from a disease that restrains him the chances of having children. Yet the miracle of life struck them by surprise, giving him a beautiful boy, who “looks just like his mother”, he said. In that liberating moment, he also confessed to me that he had never married the mother of his son because another way for Cubans to escape from their paradisiac prison is to marry the citizen of another country. Indeed it didn’t take long before I found an example of somebody whom was able to escape Cuba through convenient marriage. Unfortunately, this person did not feel free to reveal his tale and denounce the restrictions that Cuban citizens suffer every day as telling the truth, in this case, would have had negative consequences on the freedom of his family, as well as on his own.
Apparently the lack of freedom of movement is strictly related to the lack of freedom of speech. However what Julio’s courage to speak up remembered me what John Milton said in “Paradise Lost” about Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. He said that even though they were happy and free in heaven, they declined that happiness to eat the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil and to know what justice is, even if it means disobeying God’s will and suffering for the loss of innocence. Freedom is important but has way less value if it doesn't convey truth and justice. This reflection brings me back to my initial question: is it worth keeping such a serious matter hidden from the consciousness of the world to "protect" one’s freedom? I think the answer is yes. Freedom is often underpinned to truth, but telling the truth is a choice, and if we have not even the possibility to choose to tell or not to tell the truth than what kind of freedom can come from it?