May 3, 2019 is World Press Freedom Day. But is the press truly free?
The United States ranks 48th in terms of press freedom, so the answer appears to be no, the press is not truly free. Let’s take a look at why the American press isn’t all that free.
Last month, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange was evicted from the Ecuadorian embassy in London, England.
Coincidentally, Ecuador evicted Assange exactly a month after being given a $4.2 billion loan from the International Monetary Fund. (The United States has the most control of any country when it comes to the IMF. It seems like a conspiracy theory at first glance, but there might be something to this. After all, the United States wants Assange extradited, so a quid pro quo agreement would make sense.)
Assange and WikiLeaks first rose to prominence in 2010 when WikiLeaks began publishing classified documents pertaining to the United States’ military and diplomatic dealings. These documents were provided by Chelsea Manning, a now-former Army intelligence officer. (Manning has since faced legal repercussions for leaking confidential documents.)
So, what did Manning’s leaks to Assange and WikiLeaks reveal? A lot of bad stuff. For example, WikiLeaks revealed the following:
· Israel’s nuclear arsenal (which was relatively well-known, despite Israel’s refusal to comment)
· Attempts by the United States to obstruct UN investigations
· Israel’s attempts to sway Hillary Clinton
· Attempts by Israel and the United States to cover up the United States’ delivery of bombs (meant to target Iran) to Israel
· American military personnel killing Iraqi civilians
· Evidence of torture of detainees (including amputating fingers and acid burns)
· The Democratic Party colluding with Hillary Clinton to prevent Bernie Sanders from winning the Democratic nomination
· Evidence of how the American government spies on us
· Evidence of the United States’ plans from regime change in Syria, Yemen, and Venezuela, and more
· There’s a lot more than I’ve included. Click here for a longer list.
I know, that’s a lot to list, but now you get the point. Assange and WikiLeaks uncovered a ton of dirt.
Assange’s crime – at least as it relates to journalism – is “conspiring to commit unlawful computer intrusion based on his alleged agreement to try to help Ms. Manning break an encoded portion of passcode that would have permitted her to log on to a classified military network under another user’s identity.” Put more simply, Assange’s crime is working with Manning to hack computers and get documents. This is allegedly why the United States wants him extradited.
Interestingly, the United States government hasn’t charged Assange for publishing government secrets (at least not yet). So really, Assange’s only crime is working with a source who fed him information. Yes, working with the source required hacking into computers, but at its core, Assange’s work with Manning is no different than any other investigative journalist with a source. Any investigative journalist would ask their source for more information. That’s just how journalism works. This gets to why the charges against Assange are so problematic.
In charging Assange with colluding with Manning to release classified documents, the United States government is threatening investigative journalism. I believe that, if we are going to consider ourselves to be free, we deserve to know what our government is doing, especially if our government is doing reprehensible things. This is why Assange’s work – as well as our government’s attempt to silence him – is so important.
More Social Media Censorship
No, this isn’t déjà vu. I’ve written about this before.
On Thursday, Facebook banned a number of “dangerous” accounts, including those of Alex Jones, Milo Yiannopolous, Louis Farrakhan, and more.
Facebook, being a private company, is well within its rights to ban whomever they want. That doesn’t mean we have to agree with it, though.
My biggest problem with Facebook is that it isn’t truly a private company. The United States and Israeli governments have both directed Facebook to delete certain accounts. This is problematic because what was once censorship by a private company quickly becomes censorship by the government. If Facebook wants to ban someone from their account because of the content they post, that’s perfectly fine. If the government wants to ban someone from Facebook, though, this very quickly becomes a free speech issue.
Second, what does “dangerous” mean? I think we can all agree that inciting violence is dangerous. Therefore, we would agree that Facebook would be justified in banning users who incite violence.
There is a gray area, though. For example, are arguments and disagreement dangerous? After all, arguments and disagreement are the basis on which a lot of violence is perpetrated. Most people don’t want to ban disagreement from social media, but where do we draw the line? What’s the difference between acceptable and unacceptable disagreements? With the standard for censorship being just “dangerous,” there’s a lot of room for interpretation, which means there’s a lot of room for people to be wrongly censored.
While there are clear examples of what is dangerous, most people don’t fall into the category of users inciting violence. To my knowledge, Milo Yiannopolous hasn’t incited violence on Facebook. Is he controversial? Yes. A bit abrasive? Sure. But I certainly wouldn’t call him dangerous. He’s just a loud talking head with a ton of opinions.
While people like Jones, Farrakhan, and Yiannopolous seem like relatively small players in the media at large, banning people like them - who are often referred to as members of the “alternative media” - further centralizes the control of the news. Members of the alternative media are crucial in preserving the free press because they provide a much-needed diversity of opinion.
Ultimately, diversity of opinion is one of the reasons I do this. There’s news out there that people like you deserve to know about, but the mainstream media often doesn’t give you the whole story, and that’s where I enter the picture. That’s why press freedom means so much to me.