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How my Dad stood up for freedom of the press

Jeff Flake, a U.S. senator, is due to give an address on the Senate floor this week in which he will denounce President Trump's "unrelenting daily assault" on freedom of the press and point out that when Trump accuses the press of being an "enemy of the people," he is using the same phrase Josef Stalin used long ago.

Freedom of the press is dear to my heart for many reasons--I'm a former reporter--but especially because my Dad, Reginald Foster, a veteran British journalist who was in his sixties at the time, stood up for freedom of the press on January 18 1963 when the full weight of the British government bore down upon him.

“Tell us the source of the information in your story or go to jail,” said the government, in effect.

The government of Prime Minister Harold MacMillan had been upset and embarrassed—hugely so—when it learned that a low-level Admiralty clerk named John Vassall had been spying for the Russians for 18 years without being detected.  Vassall, a homosexual, was blackmailed by the Soviet Union after falling prey to a "honey trap."

A tribunal was set up to investigate the circumstances surrounding the scandal that riveted the attention of the nation and indeed the entire world.

The Vassall Tribunal, as it was named, called upon several British journalists--including my father--to reveal the sources of information they revealed in their stories. But for some reason never fully explained, only two of the journalists--my Dad and a colleague named Brendan Mulholland--were actually sent to jail when they refused to name their sources. Dad received a three-month sentence, Brendan a six-month sentence.

My Dad’s words in response to the chairman of the Tribunal are among my most precious possessions.

Asked by Lord Radcliffe, “What are your reasons for not answering the question?” Dad responded, in part:

"It is a matter of conscience, my lord. My informant spoke to me under a strict seal of secrecy, and the fact that I am being asked to break that seal creates for me an appalling crisis of conscience.  Naturally I wish to help the tribunal, but I don’t see how I can break this seal with a good conscience.

"Further I would submit that it is not in the public interest that I should do so. I believe passionately in democracy as we have it in this country.  But it is, I believe, a delicate flower.  It flourishes only on a delicate balance and series of checks….the freedom of the press to probe, reveal and criticize excesses of government, while the press itself is checked by the High Court, by the law of libel and so on.

"If this balance is disturbed the opportunity for governments to hide their muddles will be increased, and for officials to extend the power unchallenged."

I do trust you will find the above of interest, and would much appreciate any comments you may have.

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{ 19 comments… read them below or add one }

maria January 15, 2018 at 1:34 pm

Moving story. On such rich soil were you ‘fostered’.

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Christopher Foster January 17, 2018 at 3:54 pm

Thanks Maria. It’s good to hear from you. All the best for 2018.

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Llynde January 15, 2018 at 1:41 pm

How proud you must be of your Dad – and rightly so. Now it is our turn to be proud of you, Chris with your unfailing honesty in your writings. You have been an inspiration to many, uplifting our hearts and beliefs.

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Christopher Foster January 17, 2018 at 3:56 pm

Thank you for your very kind words, Llynde. Your encouragement and support mean a lot to me. Have a wonderful new year.

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Susan Short January 17, 2018 at 1:32 am

Precious words, indeed. These days “words fitly spoken” are needed more than ever, along with balance, truth, respect, compassion and quality of character; this personal, timely story captures it all. Thank you for your precious words that have made me think and feel, and draw forth the story that is in me to tell. Love and blessings from the north country.

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Mark Kolev January 17, 2018 at 2:08 pm

Hi,This is a nice important Blog.You are a good Article writer.This article is the really important for me good work keep writing.

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Christopher Foster January 17, 2018 at 4:04 pm

Thank you Mark. It’s good to hear from you.

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Maureen Moeller January 21, 2018 at 6:08 am

Christopher you clearly have treasured your father’s words and actions from several decades ago in your native UK. I was 6 years-old when your father stood tall and strong braced by a deep integrity for truth, transparency and honor. He sacrificed precious time in exchange for helping to secure ongoing freedom of the press; a right we continue to struggle for right here and now in America.

Your father’s story reminds us to never give up as our hard won freedom, in my own lifetime, erodes during this tyrannical administration. I know that is why you shared this right now; we the people must always do what must be done to protect our most basic, yet fragile, human rights. Thank you dear Christopher. Love and peace to you and JoAnn.

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Christopher Foster January 22, 2018 at 11:06 am

Dear Maureen,

Your words warm my heart. Thank you for your comments re my Dad, and thank you for your passionate reminder that freedom is not a “right,” and that we should never take the freedom that we know-including freedom of the press–for granted. Freedom flowers, doesn’t it, when we as individuals love what is true and express what is true in our own lives. Love and blessings to you and keep up the good work.

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Michel Vaillancourt January 21, 2018 at 11:48 am

Dear Christopher,
The value of one’s own integrity in life has no limit.It is the material our society is made of and should be the building block of all individuals. Those values are not always part of the present our parents gave us, as was the case for you, but learning to develop qualities that allow us to be knights in shining armor brings us closer to the qualities our maker has given us in the making of who we are.
Thank you for sharing this inspiration from your life to ours.
One with You,
Michel

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Christopher Foster January 22, 2018 at 11:18 am

Thank you Michel. I am always so very grateful for your comments, and for the love and truth that shines through your words. Take care and God bless.

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Evan Griffith January 21, 2018 at 12:52 pm

Your timing is impeccable, Chris — given the attacks from the top on our fourth estate.

Your Dad’s integrity sings in you in every post you write. Though your focus is different, journalism for him, personal spiritual growth for you, the core is there.

Evan
PS: LOVE Maria’s quip at the beginning of the comments above — LSNROL

(laughed silently not really out loud 🙂
Evan Griffith recently posted..The note she has on her easel

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Christopher Foster January 22, 2018 at 11:51 am

Thank you Evan, what a pleasure it always is to hear from you and share your pithy, penetrating thoughts. I had never thought of my relationship with my Dad and the differences between us in quite this way, but you are absolutely right. He expressed his integrity in one arena, journalism–where integrity is obviously so much needed–while I felt called to a different arena that also calls for character and perseverance. I think probably the biggest honor in my Dad’s life was when at the age of 95 he was presented with a silver plate by the London Press Club that said: “75 years’ brave journalism–1924-1999.” Keep up the good work Evan.

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Kitty Peterson January 27, 2018 at 10:24 am

Brilliant! As usual, so genuinely and honestly written that speaks to the truth. I wish these words could be spread nationwide. Thank you for always sharing such wonderful insights!

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Christopher Foster January 30, 2018 at 12:58 pm

Kitty, Hi, what a pleasure to hear from you. Thank you for your kind comments. All the very best for 2018.

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Elke Brown January 30, 2018 at 1:31 pm

Hello, from Jozi!
You have every reason to be proud of your father. I am proud of your father too! I wish we had more such persons in this world.
Have a wonderful evening,
Elke

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Gianna Schiavone February 3, 2018 at 11:46 am

What an inspirational! It must have been a great opportunity to grow up with such solid foundation. Thanks for sharing:) -Gianna
Gianna Schiavone recently posted..TOMMY HILFIGER ADAPTIVE

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shanjid February 12, 2018 at 5:06 am

Hi Sir,
you are so proud because of your father. and your father would be proud because of you are a good writer. ya, your article is really wonderful to read. every readers should be think about your dad who stood up for freedom of the press. really cool article. thanks…

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Christopher Foster February 13, 2018 at 4:06 pm

Hi Shanjid, great to hear from you, and thank you for your upbeat comment. I really appreciate your words. Take care.

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