Walter Cronkite has a special place in the Ischia Price

The Ischia Prize of Journalism has acquired a glory to match its surroundings

Cronkite: "each year the Premio reminds me of the secret of our profession, that there can be no democracy without freedom of expression"

My envy knows no bounds of those who will be in wonderful Ischia this year — or any year, for that matter — for the International Ischitan Prize of Journalism. The setting itself, of course, is incomparable. This small island certainly is a jewel that glistens with a shimmering intensity known by few other places on the planet. Its secret is in its many facets, each, upon discovery, seemingly more brilliant than those whose discovery has gone, breathlessly, before. Porto, the most frequent harbor of entry, immediately captures the imagination with that great medieval castle dominating the waterfront, commanding one’s sense of history. And then the climb into the hills and the bath of perfume from the flower gardens and the nearly pristine pineclad hills. Then, there, around that narrow bend in the road, one is rendered breathless by the first view of the Ischia coast — a dramatic spectacle of forbidding cliffs and welcoming beaches and tiny harbors with their lighthouses posing for camera and artist. There must be stops, of course, for refreshment in the typical inns and, perhaps, even a dip into the sea. Later the thermal baths for which the island is famous — they are said to cure practically everything including diseases which haven’t even been discovered yet — and the drive toward the top of towering Mount Epomeo, past the dry zones pocked by volcanic eruptions of long ago but decorated now by the vines that produce Ischia’s uniquely dry and aromatic wine. For the lucky recipient of an Ischia Prize for Journalism the surroundings for the impressive ceremony could not be more glorious. And the prize itself has acquired a glory to match the surroundings. It serves as an important reminder of the role that journalism plays in the modern world. Unfortunately, much of the public needs that reminder. We tend to become blasé about the importance to our civilization of the free press (and, here, of course, we speak of the press generically to include broadcast news as well as the printed press.) These rewards, although limited as they must be to those singled out for recognition, serve to remind us of the devotion to their craft exhibited by all responsible journalists — a devotion that not infrequently requires a courage of extraordinary character. Around the world at least 26 journalists died violently last year in pursuit of the truth — usually at the hands of those who preferred to continue their dirty deeds in the dark. Another 129 were imprisoned by political regimes that feared the light of day. These are the fallen heroes of an information war in which we must triumph if the people are to be free. For there can be no meaningful freedom in any other expression of civilization without the freedom of speech and of press. The press itself cannot assume the role of the classroom teacher, but it is an essential tool for the education of the public, an education without which democracy cannot survive. An uneducated public, and one without a free press, are merely vassals to an autocracy of the educated. They are unequipped to participate in their government by intelligently exercising their franchise at the voting polls. The early American statesman Thomas Jefferson said it so well a couple of hundred years ago: "A people that expects to be ignorant and free expects what never can and never will be." Let us raise our hats again this year for those honored at Ischia who pursue with courage and devotion this great enterprise of free journalism, and raise our hats too to those who organize this event and provide this annual reminder of the importance of our profession.