Freedom of the Press & The Internet

Freedom of the Press & The Internet

Why it matters, what is to be done:

The internet has become our town hall – particularly so since the mainstream media is neither a free press nor democratically controlled, but is dominated by a very few corporate voices who control the media by controlling advertising revenues, or who simply own the media outright. (When asked how corporations control the media, Noam Chomsky replied, “They own it. You don’t ask how corporations control GM!”) Given that free speech and freedom of the press are essential prerequisites to a functioning and authentic democracy, and given that freedom of the press cannot coexist with the present framework of corporate media monopolies, the internet, therefore, has become vital to democracy.

 

 

The Context: Media cartels do not constitute a free press

“To make informed decisions, citizens need a wide range of news and information. They also need access to a broad and diverse array of opinions and analyses about matters of public interest. Journalists are important providers of such information, as are the information media that transmit such material. This is why the freedom of the press is widely recognized as a central pillar of any democracy…

“Public debate based on differing views is the cornerstone of democracy, and the news media provide a vital space where that debate is carried out. The right of proprietors to voice their opinions on their editorial pages has long been considered fundamental to freedom of the press. Difficulty arises, however, if one proprietor owns so many media outlets that his or her opinions crowd out others…

“It is impossible to have democracy without citizens and impossible to exercise meaningful citizenship without access to news, information, analysis and opinion. The core of this report addresses crucial factors related to the exercise of citizenship. The public interest in healthy and vibrant news media is as important as the public interest in the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.”

– Final Report on the Canadian News Media,
Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications,
June 2006 (original emphasis)

 

A free press, free expression – it’s the last line of defense for all the other freedoms.… No matter how imperfect things are, if you’ve got a free press everything is correctable, and without it everything is concealable.”

– Tom Stoppard, Night and Day.


Large multi-national corporations already control the vastly greatest share of the mass media. Five corporations control the bulk of Canadian media. Six corporations control over 80% of the broadcast media in the U.S. Radio, TV, newspapers, magazines, satellite and cable are controlled by a handful of corporate giants, with only the periphery of media outlets left to represent or give voice to the 99.9% of the population that is not the media-dominating elite investment class. With media monopolies such as this, there is no free press, save for a few voices on the margins that reach only a small percentage of the population. The media barons effectively shut out the majority of perspectives, save for those that fit closely enough with that of the investment class. In terms of mass-communication networks, the only free press we now have in either Canada or the U.S. is the internet. And now the corporate communications monopolies want to take control of that too.


The Corporate Take-Over of the Internet Must Be Stopped

As has been said, the internet has become our town hall, as well as our town square: it is the place where open and free democratic debate and discourse can still happen, can still flourish, and does still flourish; and this is particularly important since the mainstream print and broadcast media are dominated by a handful of corporate voices, who all speak within the same extremely narrow band of opinion and perspective. What the telecom giants want, is to take out town hall and town square, and erect a twenty foot fence around it, topped by razor wire, leaving only a few gates for their friends: those who have the resources to pay the steep toll fee, and who furthermore, do not excessively offend the lords of the town square. This is unacceptable, and this is anti-democratic.

In the U.S., a legal battle is under way to preserve freedom of the press and free speech on the internet. Three corporate telecommunications giants have been busy lobbying political representatives to pass legislation that would grant them control of the internet, as effective gatekeepers, making the net, not a free superhighway of information available to everyone, but a high-fee toll highway, with the highest bidders having full access, and the rest of the populace having their voices muted by the inability to pay the steep tolls. This is one facet of a larger struggle to protect democracy, free speech and human rights from a broad-scale corporate assault. It is critical that the internet remain free and open to all.

While in the U.S. the campaign to save the internet has become a broad-based mass movement of real power, in Canada, the issue is not even on the radar. But in Canada as well, the combination of corporate lobbying by telecommunications giants, deregulation and the oligopoly of telecom corporations, is likewise threatening the free, open and democratic nature of the internet. This cannot be taken lightly. There is virtually no space for democratic debate or dialogue in Canada or the U.S. now in absence of the internet. The internet must be kept a public domain, dominated by none, and accessible to all. If we had had any sense, we would have guaranteed the same for the broadcast media of tv and radio. It’s not too late to return to that issue. And it’s not too late to save the internet, if we act now.


Save Community Access Programs

With large numbers of people having limited or no access to the internet, these people, these citizens, are functionally shut out of the democratic debate and dialog. They can be spectators, but not participants; and democracy is not a spectator sport: democracy, by definition, cannot function or exist without citizen participation. To allow large numbers of people to be shut out of the democratic forum is unacceptable for a democratic nation – or one that aspires to be so. For this reason, free, universal public access to the internet should now be regarded as a basic right in every democratic society.

The Community Access Program of Canada, which provides free, universally accessible internet access to people who would otherwise not have this, is therefore vital, and is a matter of upholding basic rights and freedoms for all. The funding, which has been eliminated, must be re-instated now.

Conclusion

Are we or are we not a democratic society? If we answer yes, or if we value democracy, regardless of how we answer that question, then words and sentiment must be combined with action. Rhetoric alone will not do. These basic values are too important to leave to speech writers and PR teams. They require commitment and they require tangible expression in our communities, nation and world. The CAP program is one such expression of the reality of our commitment to democratic values. The preservation of net neutrality and free speech on the internet is another, even more fundamental. If we do value democracy, we need action on these issues now. Otherwise, any pretense about democratic values should be abandoned.

J. Todd Ring,

March 16, 2007

 

 

 

Save Community Access Programs

Your Media: Preserve Freedom, Diversity, Independence

* Save the Internet : Fighting for Internet Freedom

Canada Sleeps Through War to ‘Save the Internet’

Tory documents cast doubt on Net neutrality

BBC Reveals U.S. Military Plans to Control Internet

Join the Blue Ribbon Online Free Speech Campaign!

Electronic Frontier Foundation

irrepressible.info

OpenNet Initiative

CitizenLab

Psiphon

Tor Privacy Software

Journalists Question Media Ownership in Canada

CRTC delays hearing but mergers still on

Canadian Media Ownership Too Concentrated – Poll

Canada’s Media Monopoly

Concentration of Newspaper Ownership: Royal Commissions of 1970, 1981 – no action yet

Final Report on the Canadian News Media: June 2006

Defend the Press

PR Watch

Project Censored

 

Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting

The Power of Nightmares: BBC Documentary Shreds the War on Terror Myth

The Responsibility of Intellectuals

Manufacturing Consent – excerpts

Necessary Illusions; Thought Control in Democratic Societies – Noam Chomsky


 

 

Excerpts from the Final Report on the Canadian News Media,

Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications, June 2006

“Watch dogs that do not bite”

“Two federal agencies administer the legislation and regulations that have an impact on the corporate practices of Canadian news gathering organizations. The Competition Bureau is responsible for matters relating to the Competition Act, including media mergers that might affect competitive markets. The CRTC regulates the broadcasting system; changes of ownership that involve broadcasting licences must have its approval…

“A history of the approach of the Competition Bureau and the CRTC in their respective treatment of news gathering organizations and news media is available in a paper prepared for this Committee by Professor Richard Schultz.[15] It concludes that the Competition Bureau has had a narrow focus on advertising markets and the CRTC has largely set aside its concerns about news and information. Instead, the CRTC focuses on “cultural” issues, i.e., policing Canadian content….

“As for media concentration and cross-media ownership, the current regulatory system offers little protection against particular adverse effects of ownership concentration on the diversity of voices….rules to prevent high levels of concentration of ownership of media properties, either in particular regions or within the country as a whole, do not exist….

“The media’s right to be free from government interference does not extend, however, to a conclusion that proprietors should be allowed to own an excessive proportion of media holdings in a particular market, let alone the national market. Yet the current regulatory regime in Canada does little to prevent such an outcome….

“As this report has pointed out several times, an important element of a free press is that there be a variety of different sources of news and opinion. This can only be guaranteed if there is a plurality of owners. The country will be poorly served if as few as one, two or three groups control substantial portions of the news and information media in particular markets or within the country as a whole….

“The Committee’s 40 recommendations are guided by the conviction that the more owners, the better. In the Committee’s view it is imperative that the Broadcasting Act and the Competition Act be amended. Without changes to these two pieces of legislation, it will be impossible to develop a mechanism that allows discussion of the public interest in media mergers…

It is impossible to have democracy without citizens and impossible to exercise meaningful citizenship without access to news, information, analysis and opinion. The core of this report addresses crucial factors related to the exercise of citizenship. The public interest in healthy and vibrant news media is as important as the public interest in the rights and freedoms of individual citizens.”

– Final Report on the Canadian News Media,
Standing Senate Committee on Transport and Communications,
June 2006

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