Freedom of the Press: What they don’t teach you in J School

Finally! Machetera returns from her well-earned vacation, and for your reading pleasure, she’s pleased to present a series of five articles filed by the very talented journalist, Diana Barahona, from her recent visit to Cuba.

By Diana Barahona

July 22, 2008

La Habana – The United States has one of the highest levels of press freedom in the world. We know this because four different press freedom organizations say so. The fact that all four receive generous funding from the U.S. government doesn’t seem to matter.

Fidel told Frei Betto in an interview that he considered freedom of the press to be nothing more than freedom of ownership, and this is true: money is power, and the U.S. press has the power to choose our political leaders for us. Just ask Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards and Ralph Nader, and they will tell you how they were disappeared from the 2008 presidential race as quickly and definitively as any Soviet leader who fell into disfavor with Stalin.

The current definition of freedom of the press was developed by the monopoly press, with the support of the state, and the tortuous logic goes like this:

  • Governments, although they are well intentioned, tend towards corruption and abuse.
  • An independent press is necessary to inform the public about this corruption and abuse.
  • Independence is assured by not receiving any money or subsidies from the government.
  • To maintain this independence, the press must be commercially successful.
  • Therefore, the more commercially successful the press is, the freer it is.

A communications text written by professors at Cal State Long Beach defines democracy in an equally crass way when it proposes this argument: If democracy means distributing the greatest amount of goods to the greatest number of people, and advertising facilitates this distribution, then advertising is democracy (yes, the text actually says this).

Here’s the reality of the situation, which you would be unwise to speak of in a journalism class:

  • The transnational corporations control the state.
  • The big media companies are transnational corporations.
  • Therefore, the big media companies control the state.

What are the consequences of a state controlled by transnational corporations, among them the media giants? First, the media buy laws that enable them to become more consolidated and accumulate more capital. Second, the media will support the state as long as it is obedient to the transnational capitalist class. Third, if a leader manages to become head of state and decides that his loyalty is to the people who elected him, the media will wage war without quarter until that leader is gone.

The Rise and Fall of Reporters Without Borders

Journalists Jean-Guy Allard, Salim Lamrani and Maxime Vivas have written all there is to write about Reporters Without Borders. The facts are there for anyone interested in reading them. I would just like to add two philosophical points to the discussion of this government – and corporate-sponsored group.

The first is that although RSF has close links to the U.S. government, it also receives money from France, the European Union, the United Nations (until recently), from billionaire foundations such as Soros’ Open Society Institute and Taiwan. It is also receiving money from other sources, but who calls the shots?

Given the rise of a transnational capitalist class and the creation of supranational institutions such as the WTO, the EU, the IMF and World Bank, and the WEF, sociologists are struggling to create a new definition of imperialism. Many people still believe in U.S imperialism because it was the United States that led the worldwide transformation that is globalization. However the overthrow of President Aristide in 2004, although led by the United States, was actually a collective effort among the elites of four countries (five if you count the Dominican Republic), and it was one in which RSF, international media and NGOs played an important propaganda role. A transformed UN deployed troops after the coup to restore stability, not to restore constitutionality. Other imperialist actions are taking on a transnational character as well.

One way to resolve this problem is to conceptualize a transnational state, which was proposed by William Robinson in A Theory of Transnational Capitalism, among other works. From there, one can hypothesize a kind of imperialism practiced by this state – not as a unified monolith, of course, but a state in formation which already has powerful institutions at its disposal.

This is one reason for the revival of interest in the ideas of Antonio Gramsci. The transnational state, like the nation-state, reproduces itself in civil society; hence, the amazing proliferation of NGOs created or transformed to serve transnational capital, as well as the buying off of existing NGOs. This is a long, imprecise explanation for my hypothesis that RSF serves neither one country nor several, but the transnational state.

My second point is simpler, and it is that one of the propagandistic weapons RSF employs is to accuse leftist Latin American presidents of provoking political polarization. This is just one of its tactics that demonstrates the class character of its work. Polarization is a social phenomenon that occurs when two opposing classes are in conflict. It is only related to press freedom because the capitalist press is acting as a protagonist in the class struggle, committing sedition on behalf of powerful economic interests, of which it is one, but enjoying total impunity in the name of freedom of the press. The only way for a leftist president to avoid increasing polarization is to cease the class struggle. But RSF takes the position that the right to self defense exists only for capital.

The minute a journalist starts to write a story he is making choices colored by his biases. In the face of transcendental events, there is no such thing as impartiality. If a journalist hasn’t picked a side consciously, he or she is already on the wrong side.

Diana Barahona recently earned a BA in journalism from California State University – Long Beach, where she was disruptive, disrespectful and had an agenda, according the chair of the journalism school. She is now studying sociology at California State University – Fullerton.

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