News on News: Why #FreeIgnace matters

Kellen Voss, Sports Editor

Over the course of the semester, the Lanthorn will be conducting an editorial series titled “News on News” revolving around how news is consumed today, the concept of ‘fake news’ and the fight journalists continue to fight to have their voices be heard.

In the news of the impeachment of President Donald Trump in the middle of December, one news story got swept under the rug that needs a little bit of attention.

On the morning of Dec. 20, award-winning Beninese journalist Ignace Sossou opened his front door to police officials, before being put on trial four days later. Within two hours of the trial, Sossou was sentenced to 18 months in prison.

Why was Sossou sentenced to prison? Did he forge some documents? Did he publish defamation against a public official?

Not even close. The award-winning writer was sentenced to a nearly two-year sentence for simply publishing three tweets.

Sossou posted three tweets quoting Public Prosecutor Mario Mètonou during the Verifox conference, which was held on Dec. 18 in the city of Cotonou and hosted by the French Ministry of Foreign Affair’s media development agency.

His tweets, which quoted Mètonou candidly critiquing Benin’s digital regulations, angered the public prosecutor, who pressured Sossou to subsequently delete the posts.

Sossou did what any good journalists would do: he didn’t back down and refused to delete the tweets. He was merely reporting what was being said objectively, as no additionally commentary from Sossou was on the post.

And it’s not even like Sossou misquoted the trial, as according to a very detailed investigation of the convention, Sossou accurately reported Metonou’s quotes. He merely repeated what Metonou was saying.

While many major African news outlets, including the Ghana Business News, have come out and condemned the arrest of Sossou, the young journalist tragically still remains in jail for just doing his job.

The most shocking part about this is that Sossou didn’t even express his opinion on what was being discussed. There have been many journalists who have gotten in legal trouble, or have even been killed, for speaking out against public leaders, or simply doing their job.

12 journalists were tragically killed in Mexico in 2019. More than 100 professional or citizen journalists have been killed since the Syrian civil war started in 2013. The fact there is even a Wikipedia page to document the sheer amount of journalists killed in the Iraq war is incredulous.

While Sossou still thankfully has his life, going to jail for reporting the truth is sickening. This is equivalent of one of our sports reporters live tweeting a football game that GVSU lost and then being placed under academic probation.

In this era of Fake News — which has been pushed by politicians who simply don’t like when journalists speak the truth — the trust level in those covering politics has never been lower. I’m sure there are students on this campus who don’t want to be journalists because of the criticism that some face every day.

Fake News is oftentimes spread through public figures, and while the trust level in those individuals can be questionable, it proves that social media is a powerful tool when it comes to speaking out.

But social media should be used in a positive way to free this innocent man. Many journalists have fought for Sossou in many ways, from tweeting #FreeIgnace to respected journalists like Matt Kauffman drafting letters calling for Sossou to gain his freedom because of freedom of the press.

So before calling out a writer you know for saying something you don’t like, just know that some of us are sitting in jail for simply stating facts. While we don’t save lives like doctors and mold young minds like teachers, we have an important function in this world: we make the public aware of what they need to be aware of.

And no one should ever be persecuted for trying to spread news or holding those in power accountable.

#FreeIgnace