Freedom of the press or tyranny?

Keith Kaczmarek

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We take for granted that we have a free press, but we really shouldn’t. We have seen in dramatic detail in Egypt and Tunisia how the first tool of an oppressive regime is to cut off the ability of the press to report events, and we should realize that the press serves a key role in a free society.

And yet, journalists are often treated as annoyances or even threats. The Huffington Post recently reported that Ann Coulter, infamous conservative provocateur, made some interesting comments recently asked at the CPAC Conference. She was asked about the Republican Party’s double-talk on democracy where they spoke for it in Iraq, but against it in Egypt where dissents and journalists were being jailed. Her response was “I think there should be more jailed journalists.”

This comment drew “a huge round of applause.” What’s up with that?

Journalism is the practice of objectively reporting events and leaving others to form their opinion. Often in the case of corruption or injustice this leads to public outrage, but that is the fault of the truth and not the journalists themselves. They don’t create the public outcry, but simply shine a light on those injustices and for that we should thank them. Who else in our or any society is allowed to blow the whistle on fundamental injustices? No government, company or other organization is going to go public with their crimes, and they often have the power to silence any individual who wants to reveal those crimes.

Even Fox News, an agency famous for partisan propaganda, respects the objectivity of journalism by publically admitting that it’s most prominent personalities such as Glen Beck and Bill O’Reilly are not producing news, but instead “vibrant opinion.”

A free society needs a free press for the simple fact that the freedom to report on events is the freedom to keep the populous informed. It is no coincidence that the Founding Fathers felt that the freedom of the press was a fundamental requirement for a democracy. Without a free press, the Federalist Papers may never have been written and American-style democracy may never have formed.

You don’t have to look far to see what happens when the press is not free. In Russia, corruption is rampant and any journalist who reports on corruption is killed. During the recent Egyptian revolution, the press were beaten and detained in an attempt to hide the fact that pro-government forces began beating and killing protesters. Libya’s elite are currently jailing journalists in an attempt to silence pro-democracy advocates as they struggle to hold onto the strands of power.

The corruption of journalism is one of the hallmarks of a non-democratic society. It is no coincidence that after the massacre in Tiananmen Square, China’s many journalists were fired and blacklisted while those that remained were forced into reeducation. Censorship is part and parcel of an oppressive regime.

I hope that people in the US simply take the freedom of the press for granted because the alternative is chilling: that we don’t want to be informed and that we don’t care for a functioning democracy.

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