A Free Press
In a democracy the press should operate free from governmental control. Democratic governments do not have ministries of information to regulate content of newspapers or the activities of journalists; requirements that journalists be vetted by the state; or force journalists to join government-controlled unions.
- A free press informs the public, holds leaders accountable, and provides a forum for debate of local and national issues.
- Democracies foster the existence of a free press. An independent judiciary, civil society with rule of law, and free speech all support a free press. A free press must have legal protections.
- In democracies the government is accountable for its actions. Citizens therefore expect to be informed about decisions their governments make on their behalf. The press facilitates this right to know, by serving as a watchdog over the government, helping citizens to hold government accountable, and questioning its policies. Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print.
- The press, itself, must act responsibly. Through professional associations, independent press councils, and ombudsmen, in-house critics who hear public complaints, the press responds to complaints of its own excesses and remains internally accountable.
- Democracy requires the public to make choices and decisions. In order for the public to trust the press, journalists must provide factual reporting based on credible sources and information. Plagiarism and false reporting are counterproductive to a free press.
- Press outlets should establish their own editorial boards, independent of government control, in order to separate information gathering and dissemination from editorial processes.
- Journalists should not be swayed by public opinion, only by the pursuit of truth, as close as they can get to it. A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government.
- Democracies foster a never-ending struggle between two rights: The governments obligation to protect national security; and the peoples right to know, based on journalists ability to access information. Governments sometimes need to limit access to information considered too sensitive for general distribution. But journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such information.
Yeah, well, you say, everyone should know this, and, yes, everyone should. This is basic ninth grade civics. But just run through these points and see how many our free press and our democratic government violate or ignore.
But what, you say, is the point in posting this if this is something everyone knows? The point lies not in the information itself, but in its source: http://usinfo.state.gov/products/pubs/principles/freepress.htm.
That's right, this little homily on the role of a free press in a democracy is part of the State Department's primer on democracy — what we preach to the rest of the world while at home the government assiduously goes about subverting and suborning the press. Yes, the same State Department that hires Blackwater, Inc. to massacre Iraqi civilians (or at least doesn't fire them when they do).
Well, you say, since the government and the press are supposed to be adversaries shouldn't the government try to subvert and suborn the press? The answer is, not in a democracy according to the USDOS. Consider the following quotations from the above: Democratic governments grant journalists access to public meetings and public documents. They do not place prior restraints on what journalists may say or print and A democracy allows the press to go about its business of collecting and reporting the news without fear or favor from the government.
Perhaps a little statement to the effect that the press should expect the government will try to subvert and suborn it would be a helpful warning to a press that seems to be so easily subverted and suborned.
So long as the press is willing to provide favorable coverage of the government in exchange for access, we do not have a free press or a democratic government. A democratic government is supposed to provide access to journalists regardless (no prior restraints and without fear or favor). The State Department says so (just not for domestic consumption).
And note particularly the final paragraph concerning the admission that journalists in democracies are fully justified in pursuing such [national security] information and compare that with the insistence of Billy Kristol that the NY Times be prosecuted for publishing national security information (that coincidentally revealed that the president of the US was a felon). Why has the State Department never explained to Billy Kristol the duties and responsibilities of the journalist in a democracy as they themselves promulgate them? Does no one in the State Department ever speak to Kristol?
[Sorry, I couldn't find any way to work language and grammar into this; someone else will have to do that.]