Friday, November 17, 2017

Is Freedom of the Press obsolete?

A provocative question to be certain.

However, I believe it needs to be asked.

One of the key requirements for a healthy democracy is a well informed citizenry.  It is quite simple. If they are well informed about what is happening in their country citizens will be better equipped to keep those who would govern them on the the right path and they will be better equipped to make certain that their governors are working for the greater good.

The opposite is true.  If they are not well informed then citizens are very vulnerable to the words and actions of charlatans who are only in politics for their own very narrow self interests.

The key function of the media or the press is to provide citizens with the information to help them discern fact from fiction.  To help them identify the charlatans, avoid electing them and safeguard their rights and freedoms

For more than a couple of decades the main stream media has failed in this very important task.  They long ago gave up any semblence of informing their audiences of what is really happening in the world preferring to "inform" their audiences of faux scandals and fake controversies in the effort to make profits.  Infotainment has replaced real news and we and our democracies are much poorer for it.

That was bad enough but currently many in the main stream media have begun to act more like propaganda vehicles for individual political parties instead of objective observers of events.  This is not a favourable development for democracy.  Propaganda, its latest incarnation being faux news, by its very nature is a direct threat to democracy.  Propaganda is what autocrats use to legitimise their rule.  Propaganda is what those who would curtail our rights and freedoms use to convince us to allow them to do just that.  

Freedom of the press was created as a method of keeping our governors honest and to prevent them from setting themselves up as kings.  It was created to safeguard democracy.  If the press is no longer willing or able to perform that function then the whole concept of a free press is called into question.   If the press is going to become an enabler of those who would take away our democratic rights then the concept of a free press might need to be eliminated all together.  At the very least controls may need to be applied.

Of course, that does create the paradox of attempting to safeguard democracy by eliminating or severely curtailing a key democratic right.  How to square that circle creates a real conundrum.  One that I cannot solve in this space but there must be some big thinkers out there who could explore it.

However, it should be noted that with modern information technology there should be no real need for a media filter being placed over what governments do anymore.  A more robust use of the internet by government departments to inform citizens of what they are doing would go along way towards providing them with the information they need to keep their governors honest.  The same is true of those arms-length governent organizations set up to oversee governments.  They now have the ability to report directly to the citizens of their countries without relying on the media.  They should begin making much greater use of this capability.  There are a great number of details that would need to be ironed out to make certain that government organizations do not use this media in a self-interested fashion but it is doable.

The western democracies are being eroded away.  It is not happening quickly but it is happening.  A ban on what certain women can wear here, the right for labour to organize there, ever so slowly the rights that our forefathers fought for are melting away like the glaciers of the world. The press, the one institution that could help us to prevent and reverse that trend, is failing its duty at best and contributing to the erosion at worst.  

It is time to begin rethinking the sacred nature of the concept of The Freedom of the Press.