Freedom of the Press Belongs to Him Who Owns One
Rosa Luxemburg (1870–1919), German revolutionary. Prison notes, 1918.
Lambeth Palace, home of the Archbishop of Canterbury and the Church of england, is nervous. Ha! I knew my return would ruffle them!
The Times (when you are the original, you don’t need to sully your name with a mere location – but THIS Times is in London) reports in a story titled ‘Archbishop hits out at web-based media 'nonsense' that “The Archbishop of Canterbury, Dr Rowan Williams, has criticized the new web-based media for “paranoid fantasy, self-indulgent nonsense and dangerous bigotry”. He described the atmosphere on the world wide web as a free-for-all that was “close to that of unpoliced conversation”. Good heavens! When we fail to police a conversation, who knows what we may hear?
According to the Good Doctor, “There are undoubtedly facts which would be of huge interest to a certain sort of public, but are not by any stretch of the imagination matters of public interest in the sense that not knowing them creates or prolongs a seriously unjust situation.” This attitude may sound odd in this land of free speech, but remember, in Britain, there is no First Amendment (or any rights at all, except those granted in 1066 in the Magna Charta), and the Official Secrets Act, designed to keep secret anything that might embarrass an official, is alive and well.
Here we are on Cape Cod, pandering in the blogosphere to that ‘certain sort of public’, a segment that doesn’t sound like one in which you would wish to be included. Yet here is the new frontier, as certainly as I was on the cutting edge almost 200 years ago. My Porcupine’s Gazette and Political Register were despised as cheap tuppenny dreadfuls, but in my pages were the first stirrings towards a more egalitarian society, roundly condemned by the Lambeth Palace inhabitants at the time. Not many writers could be tried for sedition on two separate continents and then later be elected to Parliament as I was, but I like to think your Matt Drudge is such a writer.
Yes, the internet is messy and unpoliced. Praise be! Going backwards, we had television, newspapers, pamphlets, scrolls, stone tablets, and gossip – and each of them began as wild territory, and were rapidly carried away by a sense of their own importance to tedium and predictability. ‘Blogeto, ergo sum’, wrote the cyber-editor of Cape Cod Today not long ago, and he is more correct than he realizes. The blogosphere keeps more traditional media honest, by routinely scooping them and by publishing stories that would never make it through the vetting that traditional media has. One has only to think of CBS chewing its corporate lip while contemplating Ms. Lewinsky’s dress until Matt Drudge spoke clear, or the CapeCod Times preventing a reporter from viewing the story he was covering at first hand, to realize how many major stories would never have been published without the untrammeled atmosphere of the blog. Here on Cape Cod, in our little corner, we have Cape Media Watch, the Wind Farm Blog, Cape Cod Works, Cape Seneca, and my Humble Self, all speaking truth to power and circulating ideas. It is indeed a free-for-all – free to speak, free to ignore, and free to publish. The old truism of never fighting anyone who buys in by the barrel is rapidly sinking away, as free electronic ink gains greater currency every day.
Is probity a casualty of the blogosphere? Of course it is, sometimes – but Jayson Blair and Dan Rather showed that traditional media and the blog both have no corner on chicanery or on truth. Franklin Roosevelt once said, "Freedom of the press is essential to the preservation of a democracy; but there is a difference between freedom and license. Editorialists who tell downright lies in order to advance their own agendas do more to discredit the press than all the censors in the world. " This is still true - a blog, a newsmagazine or a daily paper that routinely supresses or distorts facts because they are unwelcome or disagreeable will soon lose all credibility, and the withering of their influence is a form of perverse self-censorship.
Caveat Reader – let the ideas circulate, and let us achieve the level of Unpoliced Conversation!