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editorial

When police invited a pair of Reuters correspondents in Myanmar for a chat last week, the two men accepted. Even in repressive regimes, journalism requires doing interviews with officialdom.

But when Wa Lone and Kyaw Soe Oo arrived, they were arrested, presumably over stories they wrote about Mynanmar's murderous crackdown on the Rohingya Muslim minority in Rahkine State. They now face 14 years in jail.

It's an increasingly common occurrence worldwide. In the past month, reporters have also been jailed in India, Tajikistan and Ecuador.

According to the Committee to Protect Journalists, 262 people were in prison in 2017 for the crime of informing the public. That's a new record (the number of journalists killed on the job is mercifully on track to be the lowest since 2002).

The worst jailer is Turkey, which has witnessed a brutal crackdown on free speech under President/dictator Recep Tayyip Erdogan. Next on the list, which includes more than 20 countries, comes China, a putative Canadian free-trade partner. In third place is Egypt.

The picture here at home is, of course, sunnier. There are occasional excesses, like officials at an Ontario regional council meeting recently seizing a reporter's materials. But this year also saw the adoption of a new federal law protecting journalists' anonymous sources.

Such measures take on a new importance in a media environment where some seek to purposely and aggressively diminish the value of the people's right to know.

We're thinking here of President Donald Trump and the propagandists who abet him, with their corrosive tic of braying "fake news" at every turn. Mr. Trump's words and his baseless attacks on journalistic institutions are mimicked by autocrats elsewhere. This is not a coincidence.

The Russo-American journalist Masha Gessen wrote a year ago that, for people like Mr. Trump, "lying is the message." The aim, she said, is to "assert power over truth itself."

The truth is something that is uncovered, not owned. What else is journalism but the relentless search for it? The increasing arrests of reporters remind us that press freedoms are fragile. We allow them to erode at our collective peril.