The media is at its best and democracies are safer when journalists use freedom of the press to protect freedom of speech and freedom of religion, Elder D. Todd Christofferson of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles told Latin journalists on Oct. 28.
He delivered the speech in Spanish to about 300 journalists during the 73rd Annual Assembly of the Inter American Press Association gathered in the Conference Center Theater.
"Safety does not come from stifling speech, but from giving it a chance to breathe," Elder Christofferson said.
He told reporters, editors, broadcasters and publishers that they are ambassadors of freedom and human rights and that he hoped God would protect them and bless them. The IAPA conference included journalists from many of the largest media outlets in 24 countries, including the Washington Post, La Prensa, Grupo Clarin, El Universal and El Comercio.
"We applaud the efforts of IAPA to defend and promote freedom of press and expression throughout the Americas," Elder Christofferson added. "So many of the blessings of life and the prosperity of society rest on these freedoms."
Several journalists applauded the speech.
"That was one of the best speeches we've heard in IAPA history," said the organization's executive director, Ricardo Trotti, who mentioned addresses given in the past by John F. Kennedy and Gabriel Garcia Marquez. "I've requested a copy to put on our website, because it was given by a wise man. It was the first time we've heard someone tie religious freedom to freedom of the press."
Trotti said he heard similar opinions from numerous attendees.
"Elder Christofferson equated freedom of expression to freedom of faith," said Fabricio Altamirano, publisher and CEO of El Diario de Hoy, a newspaper in El Salvador. "In a very moving way and in a very articulate manner, he described the inextricable link of these twin freedoms. It was one of the most insightful speeches I've heard in the 27 years I've sat in the IAPA assembly."
Elder Christofferson referenced the mutually supportive interplay of numerous freedoms, a theme he discussed during the summer when he described an ecosystem of freedoms during a speech at Cambridge University in England. 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 faith in society.
"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."
He 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."
Before his speech, Elder Christofferson dined with his special guest, Luis Almagro, the secretary-general of the Organization of American States who has been called "an eloquent advocate for democracy and human rights" by the Washington Post's editorial board.
The IAPA honored Almagro with the organization's Grand Prize for Freedom of the Press.
The general manager of a television shut down by the Venezuelan government said Elder Christofferson's talk and Almagro's acceptance speech gave him new hope.
"When I see people from different backgrounds and different religions engaged in different efforts but who share basic values of freedom, democracy and the importance of journalism, I feel good because I see there is help available from others who agree on the essential principles that will help society thrive," said Oswaldo Quintana, general manager of Radio Caracas Television.
Elder Christofferson 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."