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Press freedom and the art of making democracy great again

Juliette Fredonnet

Before the invention of the printing press, many people didn’t know how to read, even less how to write, and it was too expensive to own a book.

Once the cost of printing dropped, information was available on a scale humanity had never known before. 

As the production of booklets and pamphlets skyrocketed, authority, especially the Catholic Church, was greatly affected by the quick spreading of new ‘heretic’ ideologies.

Challenge to authority

Because they published material that was challenging the narrative of the Church, many thinkers and scientists were imprisoned or killed. An ignorant population, forced into a very specific understanding of their position in the world, is easy to control.

But as people started to educate themselves, the authority of the Church and eventually the culture of kinghood, were openly challenged. Authority had to reinvent itself in order to keep its position of power.

When people are free to speak, their ability to gain knowledge and wisdom grows exponentially with their capacity to acknowledge their own value and right to freedom.

Revolts are the result of people being crushed by authority to the point that they feel compelled to have a voice and fight for their rights. This is why one of the first rights given to the people at the creation of any liberal regime is the freedom of speech, and therefore, the freedom of the press.

And it is because the power of voice has such an incredible capacity to destroy oppressive cultures and regimes that it is the first right that is targeted when authoritarianism is crippling information flow. 

At the establishment of the United States of America, after a huge revolt against the British, the First Amendment was ratified in order to prohibit Congress from obstructing the exercise of certain individual freedoms; like the freedom of speech and freedom of press.

Obtaining and publishing information or opinions without government censorship, or fear of punishment was the right of every American.

Even though the Constitution is still supreme law in the US, unfortunately for Australian citizen Julian Assange, it does not protect publishers outside of the US.

The US government has decided it can go after any journalists wherever they are residing in the so-called free world. It is also refusing to grant any foreign journalist the protection of the First Amendment. This should be of great concern to all journalists.

Hot off the internet

Five centuries after the invention of the printing press, the internet has brought yet another revolution in our capacity to communicate and share knowledge.

One particularity of this tool is that information can be shared instantly, around the world. On the web, borders are dissolved and the freedoms of speech and press aren’t limited to the physicality of writing and sharing a book or a pamphlet.

Therefore, anyone can publish information to a global audience from anywhere in the world.

Julian Assange

Where does national security stop? Is there a safe-haven for free press anywhere in the world? Or the web?

The Julian Assange case raises the question of the necessity and morality of transparency in the context of a world stage. This stage is run by superpowers whose authority and financial interests would be better preserved if their actions are kept secret from the public.

A terrorist organisation is an organised group of people who use violence, generally against civilians, for political or religious purposes.

Does a government, needing to incarcerate, torture or even murder anyone who has made the public aware of its crimes and corruption, within or outside its borders, also need to be called a terrorist organisation?

Remember the lessons of the past so we don’t fall into a narrative whose only outcome is to coerce the population into obedience.

History demonstrates that the freedom of press can greatly endanger the credibility of authority. Only those who challenge repressive and corrupt culture can educate the population on the true nature of the organisation they are supporting with their obedience – and money.

We must stay open to the possibility that Julian Assange is exposing the crimes and corruption of our world leaders. Keeping Julian Assange, a non-violent journalist, in a maximum-security prison simply because he is on remand, is outrageous.

We need to support those who dare to expose the truth, or we will rapidly descend into tyranny at the cost of our most precious freedoms.

It is time to speak up and defend the last remnants of what makes a country free.

Free Assange

The next protest about freeing Julian Assange is on February 24 in Brisbane. It is part of a global protest happening on the same day.


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