Saturday, February 04, 2006

Freedom of the press


Freedom of Speech and nasty cartoons
I saw this O’reilly factor on Fox News yesterday where this issue in Washington post about an American soldier with arms and legs amputated and Rumsfeld talking to him. The Joint Chiefs of Staff 'admonished ' the post .I found it so distasteful personally. Still it should trigger thoughts:
When faced with dilemma with adherence to "western" principles of freedom of the press and environment of ‘constructive’ media role what should a guy do?
-How a free press reconciles conflicting claims from realities will be a product of state constraints, constraints imposed by its ownership, and market constraints.
-Yet media is after all, primarily a business. It has to think about the bottom-line figure in its balance sheets and operating statements. I mean you can’t live without advertisements. But a newspaper can yet make a stand for press freedom
-In most countries a free-speech corner has been provided by government. Or so they claim. And those who believe otherwise say NO given their outlook and because of that this free speech corner that govt claims it 'gives' can often remain largely unused.
Let us think about common stuff in the press. :) there is a ban on the use of microphones and music; speakers have to have their topics officially approved first. Our media is nit free the mantra goes! The freedom of speech and expression, taken for granted in the "West" ( as if they are the harbingers of fucking freedom) as a basic civil and political rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, are subject to restrictions because, there are ‘peculiar sensitivities’ due to the countries history and heritage and there is need ‘to protect certain key values’ such as survival and progress. This differing view on the right to speech carries over to the matter of the freedom of the press and of broader media.
Subsequently building on this theme pronouncements by censorship boards would say that the conception of media’s role in society should be ‘constructive’ rather than ‘adversarial’ in nature. Local media in many countries is seen as having a unique nation-building role’ in multi-racial and multi-religious nation-states. What crap!
-By communicating government message across to people, it is claimed, support has been mustered for policies that brought progress and prosperity . And true enough, there will always be facts and stats to support this.
Still architects of an engineered society, as all society out to be if it pays engineers, should recognize the importance of media early on as a major social institution and use it without compunction to set in motion a different idea of how society works. In many countries I see media as an emasculated (oops) institution which does not have the sustained capacity to contribute and respond.
-Upon examination, related freedoms can be of two parts: the first part being the right to impart information, to hold and express opinions without interference; the second part to seek, and receive information and ideas through any media and regardless of frontiers.
Some guys instrumental justification of the freedom of speech focuses on the interests of the audience receiving the messages. And they would contend that this is to society’s benefit in the longer term because people, made aware of all possible arguments, will fully value the truth -- which will tend to emerge from contending outlooks on an issue. I personally subscribe to that.
-But more importantly, in terms of governance, this will result in an informed citizenry, encourage debate and participation and enrich the quality of democracy. For these reasons, many will most probably be in favor of a press divided along partisan political lines. By giving voice to a democratically elected opposition party, a more open press will help in discovering and shaping alternatives and keep the government on its toes.
-It does not follow that an adversarial process should end in total discord and disarray. Truth, or conformity with fact and reality, imbues stronger mandate to building consensus than half-truths and propaganda. But in allowing for this process, we need to see things in the political context of a nation and recognize the historical fragile nature of emerging countries where the institutions are not well formed.
-My take on it is that society will benefit from a moderately adversarial press in the future. The reason why I say 'moderately adversarial' is that granted that the current government’s r not wholly totalitarian there is always a danger of a future regime, which may act differently. The press would have an important role in countering totalitarianism.
-Many governments are of the view that the press (and other media) shapes perceptions in society and because of the nation-building project, it makes it legitimate for them to seek to influence how the press, media and the performing arts do (or not do) this. Still it perturbs me that to date publishing permits have to be renewed annually. Sexual content and scenes showing drug use are routinely removed from films
When u see the flicks coming out of Bombay and Cairo tight controls have somehow boomeranged The order of the global challenge is to find a new balance that ‘does not stifle creativity’. Yet this lighter stance towards media is less of a response to the clamor for more freedom of expression as a civil-political right than to economic imperatives.
-Many countries that see a component of their gdp accrue from entertainment feel that controlled media has prevented the entertainment industries from developing as rapidly as they should and has been discouraging content creators to base operations in their nations.
-Media may be gossipy, sensationalist and may purvey nonsense but it is a personal right to decide for oneself what opinions to convey to and receive from others
-Government is not something faceless and abstract. It is made up of politicians and bureaucrats who are as mortal, who harbor opinions and prejudices as anyone else. It is for the press to explore, probe and agree or disagree in its editorial page with policy. This will allow people to form their own opinions. It is for government to influence those opinions but it is not for government to tell people what their opinions 'ought' to be in the first place.
Both the readers of popular dailies as well as the government have the right to express their opinion in a civilized democratic manner. Issues get played out in the Parliament and in society. Contrary to many leaders suggestions I feel that democratically elected politicians do not have exclusive preserve on what people should want and neither does the press. In any vibrant democracy the press and the government and public opinion should get formed dynamically. However, the dangers of government influencing public opinion through sanctioning the press and other forms of media are too great. Influence and control are very different things.
-There is virtual monopoly by a few media companies in many countries
-In most things in life there are natural boundaries and limits. The press should not harm innocent people, undermine the moral authority of leaders, or damage regard for institutions. And in this context where is the frontier? Absolute rights of expression, while at the heart of freedom do not contribute to making the task of running a nation state easier. The government needs to strike the right balance to do justice to very different constituencies. And its stance on an issue will always be suboptimal from a certain vantage point.
-How free a press should be ought to be a function of the state of literacy in a country. press should be held accountable for misstating facts. There is little to be said for accountability of opinion. Indeed one should not be held 'accountable' for opinion. I would opine that a society that is highly literate would be able to tolerate greater levels of dissent in opinion and contradictory view points. Perhaps that is why the Western press is more open and free without any obvious mis consequences.:))


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