Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Ire of All Despots

This essay is the submission from Matt Oursbourn, a student at Lebanon High School, placed 3rd in the 2007 First-Amendment essay contest sponsored by the Southwest Missouri Professional Chapter of the Society of Professional Journalists.

Imagine the following: government-sanctioned mass murders proceed unnoticed by the public and undocumented in the news, flyers condemning religion padorn the streets, political competition ceases to exist—a single leader reigns absolute. This scenario may seem the ridiculous dystopia of some paranoid harbinger, but this very plot unfolded during the Nazi regime in Germany and a similar one was played out during the rise of Communism in Russia. Restricted news media made possible the evils of these instances.

As independent and in control as we humans proclaim ourselves to be, in truth, our opinions are determined largely by outside influences. Thus is the great importance of the media. Each news media agency persuades its audience in a different direction. The more sources that exist, the nearer the viewer draws to sound judgment. Without access to multiple unconstrained media outlets, the public becomes helplessly subject to the will of the regulating authority behind the media. This is where despotism begins.

But to the ire of all despots, free news media ensure a liberated society by keeping the government responsible to the governed. The State of the Union address is a perfect example of this. Once each January, the nightly routine of sitcoms and reality shows is cast aside as every major broadcasting company and news agency televises the scene inside the Capitol building. The Chief Executive of the United States must account for his actions of the past year and propose his agenda for the next in front of the entire nation. This direct communication between a head of state and the people is a rare thing in history and affirms the fundamental principle of popular sovereignty. But when the correspondence between a government and its subjects is distorted by controlled news media, the power of public opinion is lost and those governing can literally “get away with murder.”

The era of Stalin in Russia exemplifies this concept. His actions effectively obscured from the public by the Communist-regulated news outlet Pravda, a paranoid Stalin executed the Great Purge in which hundreds of thousands of assumed “enemies of the people” were systematically murdered. The contrast between the two former examples demonstrates the great value of free news media to all governed peoples.

In addition to holding governments to some degree of honesty, free news media bring a diversity of viewpoints to light, which allows for variance of opinions among the people. The resulting intellectual hodgepodge ensures the perpetual presence of a rebuttal for every presented argument and continually checks the increase in esteem of emerging ideas, both of which are vital to the preservation of personal rights and liberty in general.

Free news media are a necessary aspect of any society worthy of the prestige to be alled such. “Pride goeth before destruction”[1] and controlled media goeth before yranny. To vanquish free media would be to relinquish any claim to intellect and any grasp of the ideals of fair government and freedom.


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