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SALT LAKE CITY — Journalists play a crucial role in society as ambassadors of freedom and human rights, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the LDS Church’s Quorum of the Twelve Apostles said on Saturday night.
Speaking in Spanish in the Little Theater of the Conference Center in downtown Salt Lake City, Elder Christofferson told the Inter American Press Association’s 73rd general assembly that leaders of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints applaud journalists throughout the Western Hemisphere for defending and promoting freedom of the press and expression.
In fact, he said, the press is at its best when it uses its freedom to promote other freedoms.
“We honor your efforts to give voice to the voiceless, to shine light on the difficulties of our world and to bestow dignity on the human experience,” he said. “May God bless you and protect you as you go forward as ambassadors of freedom and human rights.”
The IAPA is a group of publications from North and South America and the Caribbean. Members include the New York Times, the Washington Post and the Wall Street Journal. The four-day assembly, hosted by the Deseret News, also an IAPA member, runs through Monday and includes some of the biggest names in Latin American journalism.
Washington Post editor Martin Baron spoke about trust and fake news during a 90-minute onstage conversation with Deseret News editor Doug Wilks earlier Saturday. Best-selling author and media pundit Jeff Jarvis spoke on Friday.
Like Baron, Elder Christofferson spoke about trust in media. He said journalists play a crucial role in informing citizens in a democracy and facilitating discussion and debate among people of different backgrounds and beliefs.
“The basic principles of journalistic integrity — objectivity in reporting, detachment from personal bias and disinterested duty to the truth — are essential in facilitating public trust and civil discourse,” he said, quoting a Mormon Newsroom essay on journalistic integrity. “All individuals and institutions, including churches, share an interest in contributing to these worthy goals.”
“Safety does not come from stifling speech,” he added later, “but from giving it a chance to breathe. Not everything that comes from our pens or our mouths will be useful, but when freedom is discouraged, nothing good will come out of them either. To get the sublime, sometimes we have to put up with a little of the ridiculous.”
Elder Christofferson used two international documents to show how basic freedoms work together to bolster each other, something he called an ecosystem of freedoms in a talk in England last summer. That ecosystem includes religious freedom, he said.
“Because religion occupies such a large space in the spectrum of human life, the range of solutions would be smaller without the voice of religious conscience,” he said, quoting a Mormon Newsroom essay on religions.
He also said religious freedom does more than protect religious people and institutions.
“It also acts as a catalyst in protecting the whole range of human rights,” he said, quoting a talk he gave this summer in India. “The right to speak about God, for example, also embraces and protects the freedom to speak about one’s opinions and beliefs in matters of politics, art, literature, history, morality, or virtually any other topic. Freedom of expression and freedom of conscience become mutually supportive.”
Elder Christofferson called the United Nations’ Universal Declaration of Human Rights a powerful statement that declared, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion.”
He also quoted from the Declaration of Chapultepec, a list of 10 fundamental principles for the protection of free speech developed at an IAPA conference in 1994 and signed by President Bill Clinton and other Western Hemisphere heads of state.
“We applaud the efforts of IAPA to defend and promote freedom of press and expression throughout the Americas,” Elder Christofferson said. “So many of the blessings of life and the prosperity of society rest on these freedoms.”
He called freedom of the press and expression universal principles that “require our vigilance in preserving them in law and culture. So, in this great endeavor of securing the broad freedoms of the soul, let us all work together — media, religion, education, business — to lift our communities and instill values for our mutual flourishing.”
Luis Almagro, the secretary general of the Organization of American States, who earlier Saturday received the IAPA’s Grand Prize for Freedom of the Press, attended Saturday night’s events, which included performances by Brigham Young University’s ballroom dance company, A Cappella group Vocal Point and the Living Legends.
Elder Christofferson has spoken frequently in recent years on religious liberty and freedom. A list of major religious liberty addresses by LDS leaders is available on an official church website, religiousfreedom.lds.org.
At the same time Elder Christofferson was speaking Saturday night, Elder Ronald A. Rasband of the Quorum of the Twelve presided over a regional LDS religious liberty conference in Sacramento.
Elder Christofferson was at the nexus of a major American conflict over Constitutional freedoms as a law clerk for the judge who ruled that President Nixon had to surrender his Oval Office tapes during Watergate. He and Judge John Sirica were the first to listen to the tapes that led to Nixon’s resignation, and he regularly acted as the judge’s media spokesman.
He previously had learned Spanish as a 19-year-old missionary in Argentina. After a career as an attorney, he lived in Mexico City with his family when he served in LDS Church area presidencies from 1994-97.
He told the Latin American journalists that Mormon missionaries become goodwill ambassadors for Latin American countries.
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