Freedom of the press and mass media
Many of our people believe that freedom of the press is the most important mechanism that gives life to our democracy. It is through that freedom that we come to know about the venalities being committed by our government officials; that without it, our institution would die. Nonetheless, behind the facade of what we consider our sanctified freedom, seldom do we know that there is a wide difference between the press as we understand of it, from the media, although both assume to possess the privilege of freedom to carry out their undertakings.
Hardly could one distinguish the freedom of the press from that of the so-called freedom to control the media. To make ourselves clear, freedom of the press has reference to what an individual or group of individuals wants to convey without prior restraint. From that point of view, it is treated as an absolute right. But in the course of time, our concept of freedom of the press has evolved such that practically, it would not mean anything if the writer cannot channel his thoughts through an institution called “mass media” (plural of medium), because the purpose is to disseminate as much information to the widest possible audience.
Thus, the freedom of the press that we came to understand refers to freedom of the people engaged in pamphleteering or writing in tabloids for which the author directly conveys his ideas to his readers. Because of progress and the desire to reach the widest possible audience, the so-called “mass media” was conceived and that began with the founding of newspapers operating on a daily and regular basis. The concept of newspapers in the early days operated in the true spirit of freedom of the press. But as it grew, requiring more capital to keep its operations going, it evolved to become a big corporation, owned and operated by business moguls, for which the paper is now used to defend the interest of the stockholders. Effectively, the noble motive of disseminating the truth gave way to the interest of business.
Because of advances in telecommunications and technology, mass media gave birth to a specialized form of information dissemination called the audio system or listening through the radio. Later, the video and audio system came into being with the advent of television. Today, a novel and revolutionary mass media – the Internet – where both the users and the audience invoke their right to freedom of the press. Through the Internet, one can convey one’s thoughts around the world at the flick of one’s fingers, and send them at the speed of light. The internet created a distinctly form of mass media communication called “social media” to distinguish itself from the mainstream media which was based on the corporate-run tri-mass media of radio, television and newspapers.
The users or practitioners of the social media, like Facebook, blogs and social news, etc., revived the true meaning of freedom of the press. People actively interact to discuss issues they like to tackle, and are free to oppose and criticize each other, unhindered by restraints that are rooted in protecting one’s interest. It is a wonder of science that put truism to Marx’s prediction that instead of class struggle, a new form of mass communication would rise to devour the traditional mass media. Today, some newspapers are barely surviving the onslaught of competition posed by the social media and the internet. It is considered the freest of all mass media because there is in that system the active involvement of both parties in a system called “interactive communication”.
The beauty about this innovation is that the author opens himself to disagreement and criticism, no matter how bankrupt and morally depraved one would argue his point of view. The rule of self-restraint is observed if one wished to avoid being spammed or receive violent repercussions arising from uncalled-for and libelous commentary. Of course, the user can be sued for libel, but the majority just do not care anymore. Why bother to listen to an anarchist, a fundamentalist, a zealot, a religious charlatan, a self-righteous politician, or to a loony fringe when there are many intelligent people out there from whom we could learn more about life? The set of standards considered morally acceptable has been reverted to the individual, for him to judge what is morally upright and rationally correct.
The traditional mass media is considered a dying industry today. Nonetheless, from a positive point of view, the mass media gave a glimpse of what it takes to know what is taking place around us. But along the way, the general public has failed to detect that the freedom of the press they used to understand and often believed as absolute, has departed form its original meaning such that it is now considered more of a right reserved to the owners of the mass media.
Maybe the interest of the individual is tolerable as he can only speak and write for himself, but not of the interest of the mass media because it portrays its interest as the interest of the general public. The mass media now acts as the purveyor of what is good for our society. The publishers, the owners of radio and television, have their peculiar interest on what they want to be printed, or say in public, but remain silent on issues related to their business interest which reason why they call themselves the “mainstream media” because they claim to represent the dominant choice of the people for information and news analysis. They dare not indulge in a hard-hitting news analysis for fear of losing their highly prized advertisers that often have close ties with the corrupted institutions we have. It is their advertisers that they want to please by putting in things they want to hear and read. They cannot rock the boat that earned for them millions by their parody of our freedom of the press. This explains why most newspapers now and, to some extent, the radio are financially hemorrhaging.
One must bear in mind that the writer could only find expression in what he writes if he is hired or given permission by the owner of the media. The right of the mass media to invoke their freedom of the press is far superior to the right of the individual who conceived and created what is to be written. If the discredited communist regimes were accused of monopolizing the mass media and screening all things that should be disseminated to the people, the same is true today of our corporate-owned mass media. Writers are no longer called writers, but newspapermen because they are employees especially tasked to gather and write news, but not to think! The same is true of our radio announcers and television anchormen. They are not free to open their mouth as they wish or even entertain the notion they have the right to freedom of the press.