Why I Am A Free Press Purist

Posted September 06, 2022
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The United States is one of the few countries in the world that does not license journalists.

The reason we don't do that is because of the First Amendment. The First Amendment says quite clearly "Congress shall make no law abridging a free press'. No law means no law. It means that anyone can be a journalist. Anyone is not only free to publish, but encouraged to do so.

The founders of the United States clearly understood that a free press was essential to a functioning democracy.

But free presses are messy. They are supposed to be. They can be upsetting. They are also supposed to be. That's the whole point.

They are also designed to reflect a very wide range of opinions and ideas. The more ideas, the better.

The American journalist AJ Liebling wrote in 1961, "A free press is reserved for those who can afford one," and in 1961, owning a press, whether it was a newspaper or a TV or radio station was prohibitively expensive. What appeared in the press was in the hands of a few few corporations or families. The notion of a functioning free press in those days was largely an abstraction.

The arrival of the Internet and its open platform and social media changed all of that. Now, for the very first time, there was an actual free press - a real free press, and a lot of people, sadly not a few traditional journalists, found he whole idea very very upsetting. 

The result was a call for 'moderation'. That is, there must be some way to 'moderate' this 'free press thing', because some stuff that is going into it, I find upsetting, or insulting, or annoying or even wrong. 

A moderated free press is great, so long as you are the moderator; so long as you have control over what is allowed and what is not allowed. But in a world in which moderating is allowed, there is no guarantee that 'you' (you know, the 'good' people) are always going to be the moderators.

The Russian media today is a great example of a 'moderated' free press. Putin decides what is allowed and what is not allowed, so as not to 'upset' some people (like him and hfriends). Well, you asked for a moderated free press and you got one.

China is another example of a what happens when you have a moderated free press. Certain newspapers, web sites and TV stations in Hong Kong are closed down because, clearly, they are broadcasting and printing things that are 'upsetting' both a lot of people and of course, the order or society.
One need not look as far afield as China or Russia to find examples of a moderated press. Fox News is a great one. They only publish things that will. not upset their viewers (or drive down their ratings). And MSNBC is actually little different. Self moderating.
But if you have an unmoderated media, what is to prevent people from publishing outright lies?
The answer to that is, nothing. (Unless of course you want a Ministry of Truth.) In the linear world, in which both Fox News as well as Izvestia and Pravda existed, there was only a very limited amount of shelf space for stories or news and information - so you had to pick and choose what you wanted the public to see. But in the world of the web, shelf space is limitless, so the "Brandeis Rule" can apply. Justice Louis Brandeis famously said, "the best remedy for a bad free press is more free press." In the world of the web, you may have as much free press as you like. There are no limits. Let all voices be heard.
But what about people who publish what are clearly lies? Won't that influence how some people think and what they believe. I have been spending a lot of time on TikTok lately. Did you know that the earth is actually flat? It seems to be true. I have seen proof. And also, we never went to the moon, or into space for that matter! All those live shots from the International Space Station, - the astronauts are actually suspended on cables. Oh, and also, the story of Noah's ark is totally true. Actual history. It has been proven by scientists. Well, so far, I am not convinced, and my thinking has not been altered by being exposed to these elements of a free press. Let us all remember the famous Midnight Ride of Paul Revere - "to arms, to arms, the British are coming!" What he actually said was 'the regulars are coming', as everyone then was considered British, But that aside, his cries were a classic example of both hate speech and incitement to violence.
Good free speech is messy. Thank God.


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