Journalists constantly get flack for broadcast and print stories being pessimistic toward the government. We muckrakers highlight problems we see, but we don't provide a solution for how to address them. We complain about Candidate A. We complain about Candidate B. We point to corruption among wealthy members of Congress. We go on and on about net neutrality and other words most people won't admit to not knowing.
What if the American press wasn't allowed to criticize the American government, though? More importantly, what if the American government ran the press?
Journalism in Shackles
Because I live in a country with a press that isn't run by the government, sometimes I fail to recognize that privilege (or right) is not owned by others. In its first chapter, The Elements of Journalism describes a scenario in which a teenager in Poland wanted to listen to an edgy radio show that criticized communism.
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This scenario, however, was not unlike what happened to many countries during the Cold War, and even today. Many governments sensor their citizens' media to spread a certain principle or idea to the public. Censorship is normally implemented in times of political instability, and can sometimes take the form of propaganda. For instance, during World War II, Germany went through an entire purge of literature, burning books deemed inappropriate for the future of the Third Reich.
I've always considered these acts of censorship as a form of oppression, but what I have not deeply considered is that these same acts can be transformed into a display of protest.
Tuning Out as a Form of Civil Disobedience
As described in the chapter, many civilians expressed disapproval for a government-run press by refusing to watch news broadcasts.
The citizens of the Polish town of Swidnik, for instance, would take their dogs for a walk in the park every night at seven-thirty, which was the time of the nightly news broadcast. Similarly, the people of Gadnak, Poland had a habit of turning their television screens to face the window, thus showing a blank screen. By showing that they were unwilling to listen to a government-run media, they were also demonstrating they weren't supportive of their government.
This portion of the reading demonstrated to me that our concept of the freedom of the press goes both ways: the press has the freedom to inform, and Americans have the choice of whether or not to listen. In other words, refusing to follow the news is not considered disobedient or rebellious. Defiance is not choosing to walk your dog during the nightly news.
Importance of a Free Press
The American press was intended to serve as the watchdog of the branches of government. American journalists have the ethical responsibility of helping in the process of checks-and-balances, and Americans are informed through the free media. The press has an incredible amount of influence over public policy and reform, but also the attitudes of Americans. A press facilitated by the government would be one voice giving information to millions of people. If you dislike the polarization of the media now, imagine what it would be like if only one set of views poured through it, trickling to every household in the States?