I have to admit that I was shocked this morning when I heard the results of the BBC poll on press freedom. To be fair, the headline question in the survey had not been, “Do you believe that a free press is important?” In fact, there were two statements, both of which acknowledged that there is no question that a free press is important. The question then really was whether or not a free press is essential.
People across 14 countries were asked to choose which of two statements on the freedom of the media was closest to their own view:
· Freedom of the press to report the news truthfully is very important to ensure we live in a fair society, even if it sometimes leads to unpleasant debates or social unrest.
· While freedom of the press to report the news truthfully is important, social harmony and peace are more important which sometimes means controlling what is reported for the greater good.
Worldwide 40% of people answered that social harmony and peace are more important than a free press. Which means that worldwide, 40% of people do not understand that without an absolutely free press there can be no freedom.
The only security of all is in a free press. The force of public opinion cannot be resisted when permitted freely to be expressed. The agitation it produces must be submitted to. It is necessary, to keep the waters pure. – Thomas Jefferson
There is a reason that freedom of the press is canonised in the First Amendment to the US Constitution. The concept of a free press was born in the US, as was the concept of real liberty. They are inseparable.
A free press is not a perfect or uniform entity and the press will sometimes agitate and cause disorder. But that is the way things need to be.
With newspapers, there is sometimes disorder; without them, there is always slavery. – Benjamin Constant
Nazi Germany did not have a free press, the Soviet Union did not have a free press. Even in today’s supposedly democratic Russia, journalists are being murdered for what they report.
Our Republic and its press will rise or fall together. An able, disinterested, public-spirited press, with trained intelligence to know right and courage to do it, can preserve that public virtue without which popular government is a sham and a mockery. – Joseph Pulitzer
The results of the survey were also reported by country. 70% of people in the US realised that a free press is essential rather than just important, which was the highest percentage of any country. But 28% of people in the US thought stability and peace were more important, whilst 2% were too stupid to answer the question. That is all worrying. All people in a supposedly free society should understand the essential nature of a free press, and in the US most of all. 70% is far too low.
If the press is not free, if speech is not independent and untrammelled, if the mind is shackled or made impotent through fear, it makes no difference under what form of government you live, you are a subject and not a citizen. – Senator William E Borah
HG Wells once said that the decline and fall of the Roman Empire was due to the fact that they didn’t have any newspapers.