By Rose Fittler
In a democracy, the right to free speech and freedom of the press are considered fundamental rights. But in many countries, writers do not necessarily enjoy the same freedoms. Instead those who dare to speak out against g governmental tyranny and oppression risk persecution, prison and torture. According to Miriam Cosic, what makes journalists who stand up to oppression different from a journalists sitting in a, say, an Australian newsroom is merely an “accident of birth”.
Creating spaces for marginalised voices to be heard is something of utmost importance to Ms Cosic. She considers PEN’s work particularly relevant. “We need people talking, writing, helping us think, and shining a light on what is really going on in the world around us. Organisations like PEN act as an advocating voice. This is crucial to our world.”
Ms Cosic says she fell into journalism after completing a Bachelor of Politics and Philosophy at Melbourne University. However, her grandmother disputes this saying that Miriam always had a yen for telling other people’s stories. Initially recruited as a writer for a friend’s computer magazine, Ms Cosic says, ‘I told him I wasn’t a journalist. He said ’but you can write and you know about computers’. That was 30 years ago, journalists didn’t know about computers then.” She was promoted to editor, and later worked on Rag Trader, a clothing industry paper.
It was at Rag Trader that her passion for fashion writing was ignited and eventually she was appointed fashion editor of The Age newspaper Then, fashion journalism wasn’t all about the smart people sitting in the front row at fashion parades. “It was all about style,” Ms Cosic says. “Then you wouldn’t dream of naming the models; they were just walking clothes hangers.” Instead she says the leading fashion journalists wrote appraising articles about changes of style and choice of fabric and colour, and the designer’s creative innovations.
For Miriam Cosic, documenting fashion was not a frivolous affair. As she says, ”Clothing is important as a social indicator, of personality, class, taste and character. Fashion is as much about socio-historical context as it is about personal preference, she says. This fascination with the interconnection between culture, arts, politics and society would guide Miriam Cosic for the rest of her career.
In 1996, after three years of teaching journalism to students at Deakin University in Victoria, Miriam Cosic relocated to Sydney to take a job with The Sydney Morning Herald. She later moved to The Australian for eight years as Arts Editor and later Literary Editor.
Currently she works as a freelance writer while completing her doctorate on Kantian ethics and cosmopolitanism, with a focus on the moral obligation individuals owe to one another. The central principle underpinning her doctorate and much of her earlier writing has been the recognition that all people should have access to basic human rights. And that it is up to individuals as independent moral agents, to strive on behalf of others to achieve those rights.
Miriam Cosic hopes for a future where, “every person is able to hold and express opinions without fear of censorship, repression, incarceration or death”.
She considers her recent appointment to the PEN Management Committee as a great opportunity, saying, “Now I can work on creating a channel to help those voices that are shut down by governments and organisations.”
Miriam Cosic believes that not only do journalists owe a duty to the society in which they live, but also to the broader international community and their colleagues around the world.
“Each of us individually and collectively can do small things,” she says.
“As writers we can support writers in other countries who are trying to explain and expose the politics of cruelty, and to suggest ways of ameliorating the lives of their fellow citizens. Writers are the first line of public critique, and the first ones thrown in goal when governments feel insecure.”