Dear Friends,

It was around 40 years ago that I first flew in an aeroplane. It was to Moscow. I went with a group of students as part of a ‘cultural exchange programme’. The other two places we visited were Minsk and Vilnius – today capitals in their own right – then the leading cities of their respective Soviet Socialist Republics. I mention this only because of the news story that broke the other day concerning the forced rerouting of the Athens to Vilnius Ryanair flight; causing it to land at Minsk in order that the police could arrest a known ‘dissident’ journalist who happened to be on board. Given the authoritarian nature of the Byelorussian Govt. one is bound to fear the worst as far as his safety and protection is concerned…The right to dissent is a basic human right. To be able to be critical of those in power without fear or favour is crucial to the proper ordering of society. And a Free Press is vital to ensuring that those in power are held to account for their words and actions, their silence and their omissions. Elections are only held once every 4 or 5 years. Newspapers are printed every day. Of course, freedom brings with it responsibility and some journalists have besmirched their reputation by abusing the freedom they have. The exposure of the methods employed by Martin Bashir being a case in point. There is a balance to be struck, but it always has to be tilted in favour of questioner, the critic, the dissenter…How do you judge what is responsible journalism? Well, is what is being reported true? Is what is being reported done so in a kindly way? Is it necessary to report it anyway? If the answer to each of those 3 questions is yes then, as the saying goes, ‘publish and be damned’…Dissent has an honourable pedigree as far as church life is concerned. I was brought up to be a Baptist, and now am one by conviction. Not so much to do with the mode of baptism, though that is an issue not to be regarded lightly, but more to do with the principle of ‘Godly Dissent.’ Understood most narrowly as dissenting from the proposition that there can be a ‘state church’ – i.e., acting separately from the Church of England – but more broadly reserving the right to express dissent in the face of decisions taken by governing authorities which appear to be at odds with a Christian conscience. How far one should take one’s dissent has always been a controversial issue. Should a person ‘break the law’ if that law is perceived to be ‘unjust’? Should a person break the law to frustrate the implementation of an ‘unjust law’? Rosa Parks is the paradigm example of how such action might work out in practice, to great effect…John the Baptist was the first ‘dissenter’. He chose to confront the rulers of his day, calling them out for their immoral lifestyle, a way of living he believed to be an affront to God. He paid the ultimate price…The right to be heard, to be taken seriously has to be earned. Empty vessels do tend to make the most noise. Even when being critical of the actions of others, we are expected to be able to suggest a constructive alternative. But when we know, within ourselves, that we should ‘take the path less travelled by’ we are duty bound to lead the way.

A Free Press is vital