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Qiushi Journal on Western Freedom of the Press

[Editor’s Note: Qiushi Journal published an article that criticized the Western world’s “freedom of the press,” saying it is just a lie. The article argued that capital controls the media in Western countries, so the media only represents the opinion of a particular interest group. The government also uses many tactics to control or direct the press to serve its purpose. Furthermore, the Western countries apply a double standard on freedom of the press. While they control the media in their own countries, they use “freedom of the press” as a tool to stir up turmoil in other countries or even to subvert other governments. The following are excerpts from the article.] [1]

Not long ago, the British media reported on a series of eavesdropping incidents involving Rupert Murdoch’s News Corporation’s publication News of the World. His corporation used the excuse of “the media’s right to know” and “freedom of the press” to violate the law, social morality, and citizens’ privacy. It showed a lack of the most basic journalistic ethics and professional conduct, and, once again, exposed the hypocrisy of the Western freedom of the press.

In recent years, many examples have gradually enabled people to recognize the true face of Western freedom of the press. In their coverage of the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, people saw all kinds of news slanted in favor of the United States. Anti-war coverage was prohibited and media reports were subject to strict control. The Western media’s reports about the “3.14” event in Tibet [2] and reports prior to the Beijing Olympics confounded right and wrong, were full of hearsay and fabrication, and were deceitful and mistaken. All these let people see the Western media’s freedom to spread rumors, freedom to lie, freedom to twist facts, and freedom to slander. … All of the above shocked many people. People ask, “How did ‘freedom of the press’ in the West end up like this?”

I. Capital and Power Are the Real Owners of the West’s Freedom of the Press

Western countries always claim that they have democracy, freedom, and human rights, which are further symbolized by freedom of the press. In fact, Western media are controlled mainly by two forces: megacorporations and governments. Because they possess the capital and the power, these two forces are the real owners of the West’s “freedom of the press.”

First, huge corporations with large amounts of capital are the primary authorities in charge of Western media. These large corporations privately own most Western media. According to business principles, only the owners of the media companies can control the press. The media staff, including the editor-in-chief, all work for the media owners and thus have to answer to the media owners.

The ultimate goal for these corporations is to maximize profits. These corporations are shackled and constrained by the need to seek profits. They only practice and pursue freedom of the press based on their pursuit of capital gains.

In recent years, the Western media’s power has become concentrated in a few hands and the media have grown in size. Their monopoly has increased. Megacorporations that own the media have exercised great influence over society. Freedom of the press has become a tool for these large enterprises to control society and thus generate greater profits. In the past decade, seven multinational companies have maintained control of the global media market. Murdoch’s News Corporation that was involved in the “eavesdropping scandal” is one of the world’s largest integrated media companies, with net assets of more than U.S. $40 billion. These huge media empires enable the media companies’ owners to wield considerable influence. Since the media have significant influence in political elections, political party leaders jockey to get closer to media owners. As a result, based on Murdoch’s power and global influence, the British New Politicians magazine ranked him first in 2010’s list of the world’s 50 most influential figures.

Second, governments of Western countries use a variety of tactics to control freedom of the press. On the surface, Western media often expose problems and government negligence, which seems to be very fair and free. In fact, the media are just one part of the complex political system in the West. Western media and governments rely on each other and use each other. Given the media’s enormous influence on society, Western governments have never loosened their control over the media. Take the U.S. as an example. The government established specialized agencies that employ a large number of professionals to deal with media affairs. Although the agencies have different names at different times, i.e. News Services Department, Information Agency, Broadcasting Management, they all have a similar function – to control the news and guide public opinion.

Generally speaking, the government can control and influence the media by leveraging its power. It decides whether to provide information to the media, when to provide information, to which media it will provide information, and how much information to provide. With the rapid development of the media, Western governments have continued to upgrade their ability to control and guide the media. For example, in order to better implement their policies, the U.S. government hires political commentators, freelance writers, and others to comment on its policies. These comments seem to be neutral, and sometimes are even critical, but, in fact, they support the government and extend major support to the government through their “minor criticisms.” The U.S. government also hires survey companies to conduct polls. Through specially designed questionnaires, the surveys lead the public to choose answers that favor the government, thereby arriving at conclusions favorable to the government. Sometimes the U.S. government even provides the media with government-made news clips. In the case of major events, the U.S. government spends money to hire media experts to train officials or hires experts directly to carry out such work. Before the outbreak of the war in Afghanistan, the U.S. government appointed “Advertising Queen” Charlotte Beers as Assistant Secretary of State to make full use of diplomatic, public relations, advertising, and other means to influence world opinion to support the U.S. position.

In most cases, to appear that they do support “freedom of the press,” Western governments do not control the media directly. They mainly pressure media owners via policies, an exchange of interests, or political pressure to get the media owners to control reporters and hence the news. For example, the U.S. government often provides services to media outlets consistent with the government position, such as providing opportunities for reporters to ask questions during news conferences at the White House, allowing reporters to travel with the president, inviting reporters to attend correspondent dinners at the White House, and even revealing some insider information. In some larger areas, the government even clears policy obstacles for (its preferred) media. For example, the George W. Bush administration actively supported the expansion and monopoly of Murdoch’s media group; in return, Murdoch’s media almost unconditionally supported the Bush administration’s positions.

II. How to Understand Freedom of the Press

First, at present, in Western countries today, “freedom of the press” is clearly representative of one social class. Since Western media are mainly controlled by large corporations, “freedom of the press” in these countries obviously represents the interests of the big bourgeoisie represented by these corporations. Even corporations that do not own any media can influence the media through advertising, because advertising is the media’s main source of income. Advertising has become an important tool in manipulating public opinion. This is how news organizations in the West have become the pawns of large corporations and special interest groups.

As for the current attacks and opposition that the media mount against each other and their monitoring and criticism of the government, these are merely political statements of the interest groups that the media represent.

Second, freedom of the press must respect the authenticity of the news and abide by the Constitution and the law. Truth is the lifeblood of the news. One important reason for people to have more doubts about the Western claim to “freedom of the press” is that the media do not tell the truth. In order to achieve their own goals, the media often fabricate and distort the facts. For example, take the recent report about the former President of the International Monetary Fund, Dominique Strauss-Kahn, in which the Western media were incredibly inconsistent. The same person can be a victim one day and a criminal the next. The reports are so confusing that no one can figure out what the truth really is. This shows that, in today’s Western society, the media have lost any respect for authenticity. “Freedom of the press” has been distorted. People are, to a certain extent, seriously deprived of their right to know.

Modern society is ruled by law. The law is paramount. Freedom of the press should also follow the rule of law. In fact, many Western countries, while allowing people the right to “freedom of the press,” also set certain specifications and limitations. For example, although the U.S. Constitution’s First Amendment clearly provides for the inalienable sanctity of freedom of the press, at different times, the U.S. has introduced different regulations, in the name of national security, in order to suppress progressive organizations and the media. In 1917 the U.S. Congress passed the “Anti-spyware Act.” In 1918 it adopted the “Anti-Incitement Act,” which stipulates that the government can restrict the media in times of war. Based on these two Acts, the U.S. has arrested over 10,000 people. The American Communist Party, established in 1919, was forced to go underground in 1920 and suspend its publications. After the “9.11” incident, the U.S. passed the “Patriot Act” to empower authorities to eavesdrop on citizens; view their Internet records, personal letters, and e-mail; and allow the FBI to monitor what books they read, all in an effort to determine whether anyone was influenced by terrorist ideas. In 2010, the “Cybersecurity Act” passed the relevant committees of the House and Senate. Its purpose is to protect U.S. Internet security. Article 11 of the French “Declaration of Human Rights” states: freedom to convey ideas and opinions is one of mankind’s most precious rights,” so the law provides freedom of speech, and the freedom to write, and to publish to every citizen, but the citizen also is to be held responsible for any wrongful use of this freedom. On July 29, 1881, France also passed the famous “Law on the Freedom of the Press.” This act, which protects the press and freedom of speech, also provides for necessary restrictions. The two most important limitations are: not to “incite crime and break the law” and not to insult national leaders. Violators of these provisions, including reporters, the press, and publishers, will face legal penalties.

III. The Double Standard of the West’s Freedom of the Press

Why do Western countries vigorously promote freedom of the press? The bottom line is that freedom of the press has always been the Western governments’ major ideological weapon to use as it sees fit.

Internally, the Western countries strengthen their ability to permeate and control all areas by disseminating the core values and political beliefs – Western democracy, freedom, and human rights (including freedom of the press) – to their citizens. Although the Western countries always claim to produce “modern” citizens who think independently and judge things for themselves, in their education system they always stress the superiority of capitalism, Western freedom, democracy, equality, and human rights. Western governments, through a variety of means, encourage their citizens to identify closely with their political and economic systems, cultural values, and lifestyles. An in-depth study of American society shows that Americans generally share a similar notion: “Americans have a special destiny and are on a special mission.” They think, “God chose the American nation, placed its people in the New World in North America, and gave them a special mission – to establish a model of freedom and democracy. The U.S. has become an example for the world; the American nation thus has a mission from God to spread the values of freedom and democracy and the democratic system to all corners of the world.” Educated with these norms, many Americans have formed a deep-rooted moral and cultural superiority. Therefore they are accustomed to looking down upon and despising all other countries, especially developing countries. They do not want to or even bother to learn about other countries, especially the basic conditions of developing countries.

Externally, freedom of the press has been promulgated as the cornerstone and symbol of Western democracy and an ideological tool with which to infiltrate other countries, particularly developing countries. With their economic and technological advantages, Western countries aggressively promote their values, culture, philosophy, and lifestyle all over the world. They infiltrate and erode other countries in order to subvert their regimes and change their social systems and their lifestyles. Back during the Cold War, the Western countries used freedom of the press as the primary means to subvert the socialist system and overthrow the Communist Parties from their ruling positions. In a sense, freedom of the press of the U.S.-led Western countries caused the disintegration of the Soviet Union and the changes in Eastern Europe. After the Cold War and tasting victory, Western countries utilized this tool even more. On the one hand, they have used freedom of the press as a weapon to criticize other countries, often producing distorted reports filled with prejudice, demonizing their politics, economics, societies, human rights, and other matters. On the other hand, they export Western values represented by freedom of the press to countries and regions such as East Asia, Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and Africa, promoting the so-called “democratic reform” of these countries.

With the recent rapid development of online media, Western countries, represented by the U.S., have strongly advocated Internet freedom and condemned countries that choose to manage the Internet properly. U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton has given two speeches about Internet freedom and freedom of speech, stressing America’s intention of ensuring freedom of information dissemination over the network. In fact, the U.S. government has been proactively strengthening control over the Internet. Using its technological advantages, the U.S. government freely spreads information to other countries when it is to its advantage, while taking measures to prevent and limit adverse information from entering the Western countries, represented by the U.S. There is a particular emphasis on the dissemination of information on the Internet, which, combined with cultural influence, values infiltration, and political interference, is turning the Internet into an important tool for promoting Western democracy. To make better use of this tool, the U.S. has set up a Cyber Warfare Command, and the U.S. Department of State has established the office of Democratic Action Network to coordinate Facebook, Twitter, Google, and other major Internet companies to develop software to avoid network monitoring of other countries and to use the Internet directly to instigate, support, and promote “color revolutions.” The “color revolutions” in Central Asia in recent years and the recent political instability and social unrest in West Asia and North Africa are all closely related to the U.S.-led Western countries’ abuse of press freedom and their effective use of the Internet.

The Western media, known as “absolutely free, authentic, and objective” actually report less or not at all on things that are not in line with their interests or their values; they extend “freedom” to others when it is to their advantage or when it can help them reach their goals. They can expand a small incident into a major one and fabricate news over nothing. “Freedom of the press” in the Western countries operates on a double standard, one for themselves and one for others. This is the essence of the Western “freedom of the press!”

[1] Qiushi Journal, “The Western Freedom of the Press under the Control of Capitals and Power,” Sep 13, 2011.
[2] On March 14, 2008, a few months before the Beijing Olympic Games, Tibetan monks initiated a protest. Large numbers of the Tibetan population joined in. The Chinese government sent in forces to suppress the protesters. Western reporters were at first prohibited from going to Lhasa to report. CNN used a video clip from a previous year in its report. The Chinese media then vociferously denounced CNN for “lying” in its report.