What’s the most deadly poison available to kill a politician? The answer used to be ink. Now, we have computers and the Internet changing the answer to pixels and bytes of information explaining and challenging the politicians’ machinations. In the end result we have debate so we can educate people as to just how badly the politicians’ actions will affect them.
“Everyone has the right to freedom of opinion and expression; this right includes freedom to hold opinions without interference, and impart information and ideas through any media regardless of frontiers” or so says the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The great thing about this statement is the fact it exists. The sad part of it is noted in the fact violations of this principle occur on a daily basis in the Middle East, North Korea, Libya, Myanmar and Eritrea.
But we needn’t go too far afield to recognize the history of repression of the press. In the late 1600s, John Milton condemned government censorship. He said people were intelligent and reasonable enough to decide how they felt about the way the king treated them. Criticizing the crown was considered seditious libel and as such, treason. In standard libel cases truth is considered a defense against the charge. Seditious libel didn’t accept truth as a defense. The goal was to punish dissenters and critics of the crown and parliament. In America, under the presidency of John Adams, the Alien and Sedition Act was a point of major contention a hundred years after Milton’s stand. You can see repression of the press and our free speech rights espoused in the Constitution and Bill of Rights can be jeopardized even in this democratic nirvana.
John Stuart Mill said we have the right to express ourselves so long as we don’t harm others. He further said if we silence the opinions of one man we may silence the truth thus causing irreparable harm to society because of losing the free expression essential to society’s well-being and growth. He said silencing one man could have the same effect as silencing society itself.
In Germany, Joseph Goebbels held a strangle-hold on the press. He knew a centrally controlled directorate held power over the media’s ability to shape and mold public opinion. His media presented propaganda, not the reportage of ideas and concepts contrary to Nazi Party ideology. Goebbels imprisoned and killed, with impunity, those refusing to toe the Nazi line.
Today it’s a great deal more difficult to stifle the expression of free speech. While it may be possible to control internet access as is the favored tactic in China or under the heel of the Iranian mullahs, technology’s opened new vistas where reportage is concerned. Computerized data reportage and commentary can be stored on data recorders no larger than the “F” keys on this keyboard. Secretly moving this type of media to a point of safe publication has vexed opponents of freedom of speech to the point of apoplexy. Bloggers and cyber-publishers have become the bane of despots and dictators. Just check out Beaurat Obama and his once darling relationship with the press.
The problem in this whole Freedom of the Press issue happens when the press/media abdicates its responsibilities and accepts any regime’s ideology so as to be a part of making history rather than reporting the events creating that history. The complicity of the electronic and print media in the acceptance of Progressive political agenda (as well as the directional development and progress of that agenda) has placed the integrity of the media in question. Where objectivity is the goal complicity equals duplicity. The entire profession becomes suspect.
Today, we have a modern miracle happening and it scares me. I must admit Rachel Maddow, MSNBC talking head, is correct in one statement (and that’s the only slack I’ll cut her): The Press is not the enemy, Mr. Obama. But, I must stress the press shouldn’t be his slavish, slobbering, sycophantic allies either. (She didn’t say that!)
Obama’s Administration collected communication records from selected reporters considered antagonistic to Obama’s administration. This occurred over a two-month period and threw the media relationship Obama once had into near divorce. This action was authorized by the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court. FISA secretly authorized the warrants to intrude on these people’s privacy. This act of covert surveillance against American citizens caused widespread condemnation by First Amendment and free press advocates.
Now the press is chapped on the same tiny hineys they sat on while applauding his candidacy, election and performance as one of the most “divisive and derisive” administrations in American history. “Divisive and derisive” are words Obama used to describe American foreign policy. Who knew he’d become a proponent of the tactic here at home?
It must be remembered that Freedom of Speech and Freedom of the Press carry responsibilities the average citizen must demand and enforce in its daily relationship with the press. Anything less is an invitation for the betrayal of trust engendered by a modern media forgetting its place in the world. In that forgetfulness it abrogates its integrity.
A free press can’t live without the integrity it takes to do what’s right as opposed to what’s expedient and profitable.
Thanks for listening.