S/SW blog philosophy -

I credit favorite writers and public opinion makers.

A lifelong Democrat, my comments on Congress, the judiciary and the presidency are regular features.

My observations and commentary are on people and events in politics that affect the USA or the rest of the world, and stand for the interests of peace, security and justice.

Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Worldwide press freedom

Here at Home - Freedom of the press is enshrined in the U.S. Constitution. In this article by James Goodale, a legal scholar, writes about how this freedom has been repeatedly upheld by the courts. He begins,

The First Amendment to the United States Constitution provides that "Congress shall make no law...abridging the freedom...of the press." Although the First Amendment specifically mentions only the federal Congress, this provision now protects the press from all government, whether local, state or federal.

The subject has been of ongoing interest for me for some time. And it is of paramount interest with the current domestic surveillance controversy in which some of us are now embroiled as writers. Free (press) blogging is something of value to be guarded and cherished. Even loyalty to the MSM is something to celebrate in today's climate of secrecy. They may not do it perfectly or even well at times, but they can be very good. The television coverage during Hurricane Katrina was an example of a very good faith effort. To quote from the Mainstream Media website (title linked above),

Someone once said that a person's perception of reality is a result of their beliefs. In today's age, a lot of those beliefs are in some ways formed via the mainstream media. It is therefore worth looking at what the media presents, how it does so, and what factors affect the way it is done. . .

Worldwide - In October 2005, Reporters Sans Frontiers (Reporters Without Borders or RSF) published their 2005 worldwide press freedom index.

The results were interesting:
On the whole, it showed that democracies ranked best. (The top position was jointly held by predominantly North European nations: Denmark, Finland, Iceland, Ireland, Netherlands, Norway, and Switzerland.)
Totalitarian and communist regimes ranked worst because there was next to no press freedom as in almost all such cases, the media is government controlled. (The worst 5 were Burma, Iran, Turkmenistan, Eritrea, and North Korea.)

But there were a few surprising findings:
The U.S. slipped down to just 44th. In 2004, they ranked 22nd which was not good, anyway; Canada and France also slipped (to 21st and 30th, respectively); U.K. ranked just 24th, almost on par with Benin, a small nation in Africa which the United Nations classifies as being one of the poorest nations in the world, and El Salvador, another very poor country; Spain and Italy ranked just 40th and 42nd, respectively (they were both only joint 39th the year before).

New Zealand (12th), Trinidad and Tobago (12th), Benin (25th) and South Korea (34th) are the highest-ranked countries in other continents and the top 20 were dominated by Europe (only two were from elsewhere).

Our founding fathers felt very strongly about this issue.

We really cannot do better than Thomas Jefferson on freedom of the press. This University of Virginia site quotes Jefferson extensively on press freedom, beginning with this,

"The basis of our governments being the opinion of the people, the very first object should be to keep that right; and were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter. But I should mean that every man should receive those papers and be capable of reading them." --Thomas Jefferson to Edward Carrington, 1787. ME 6:57

Our current president called in representatives of the press to his office to try to get them to not publish stories about spying on Americacitizensns. Even with all the pressure and his rather transparent calls to "protect national security," the papers have done fairly well with the NSA surveillance stories, even if rather late in coming. Maddening as they are at times, what would we do without the New York Times and the Washington Post?


No comments: