English: Press freedom 2019 according to Reporters Without Borders
Dark Blue = Good situation
Light Blue = Satisfactory situation
Gold = Noticeable problems
Red = Difficult situation
Dark Red = Very serious situation
“Freedom of the press” is not sexy but we hang from it on a thin thread. The federal government, some state agencies, and most urban police departments have the ability to spy on us, or if you prefer, to monitor public spaces. Who “monitors” them?
Example: In the past few months investigative journalists have provided the public with clear and broad views of police malfeasance during peaceful demonstrations. The New York Times in fact, has carefully documented up close and by air 1) the staged and violent show of force by troops paving the way for Trump’s St. John’s Church bible fraud; 2) Philadelphia SWAT battalions squeezing a peaceful crowd into a space they could not exit before pepper spraying and tear-gassing them; and 3) a police provocation of an otherwise peaceful demonstration in Seattle using flash-bombs, pepper spray, and tear gas. These are only three examples.
Don’t misread this, the point is not that all police called upon to control crowds will misbehave. In fact, we have abundant examples of police departments allowing and facilitating peaceful demonstrations. Rather, how would we know about abuse by state power if there were no organizations with the capacity to gain and construct a birds-eye view? Without freedom of the press we would soon be like Hong Kong.
Trump aside, there is no government in the history of the world that if given all the power would not abuse it. A system of countervailing powers, including those independent from the government, is the difference between freedom and oppression. The framers of the Constitution, for example, never imagined a scenario in which either House of Congress, independent with their own considerable power, would simply stand back and allow corruption, abuse, and incompetence to prevail in the Executive branch. Yet that is what has transpired in the Senate. So imagine if you dare, these past three years without a free press? It would be grim.
It is obvious every news agency has editorial failures in which biased or untrue stories get into print or broadcast. But it is crucial to have strong, vibrant, and financially independent investigative organizations in which the bleeding of partisan bias is an occasional and unintended occurrence, instead of only those well-known profit-hungry sources that intentionally report from a partisan frame of reference.
As we witness the impact of current mass social movements, we can see in real-time how investigative journalism and independent news organizations with the capacity for in-depth inquiry, connect them to the formal institutions of the state. Social movements need independent news like life needs oxygen.
Movement slogans like “De-fund Police” are good for chanting and posters, but they need to be translated factually and fully through public media. For example, de-militarizing local police departments, re-allocating policing funds for social services more skilled at addressing social problems, and re-organizing management and oversight is too long for a slogan but is more descriptive of the aims of “De-fund!” A free press can and does explain and critique, both social movements and the organs of State power they seek to change. We must have it.
While we are thanking front line workers, we need to give a shout out to investigative journalist and their organizations, too. Thank you!