How about some reader mail today? Our little essay on masters, servants, and digital media regulation has stirred up some diverse reactions. We were aiming to offend and provoke with our thoughts on a free press but we must have missed the mark.
‘Offended!!! Are you kidding…You should be writing the constitution for this country!
‘Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world’, wrote Shelley. Unfortunately he didn’t say anything about newsletter hacks, so we’ll have to stick to our day job and sweep our own doorstep. Incidentally, Shelley actually wrote his own Declaration of Rights. It begins with this:
‘Government has no rights; it is a delegation from several individuals for the purpose of securing their own. It is therefore just, only so far as it exists by their consent, useful only so far as it operates to their well-being.’
There were some questions about our position, though.
‘Defending a free press is right up there with apple pie; who isn’t for it?
‘But, nagging away in the back of the mind are images. What’s happened in the UK, for example? Roger Ailes’s blatant, and self professed abuse of media freedom with Fox News, for another.
‘It’s the same old story. Everyone, including the press, wants to talk freedom, but strangely, they’re not so eager to talk responsibility.
‘I assert that you are oversimplifying by presenting it as a this or that choice. Are you saying that there is no abuse of media power?
‘Are you suggesting that Rinehart is not following Monkton’s advice to own media to control public opinion?
‘And are you suggesting that these abuses don’t matter? That if we shut our eyes the problem will go away? Or that, indeed, there is no problem?
‘Or are you simply saying, let us have our freedom, don’t dare hold us accountable and be damned about the consequences.
‘I ask as a fellow online publisher, so answers to these questions directly relate to me.
Hmm. Well it looks like you’re confusing instances of law breaking with some higher, nebulous notion of accountability. When the media breaks the law – as it did in the UK phone hacking case – the law holds it accountable. What more regulation is needed? It was an instance of law breaking, not unaccountable power acting unaccountably.
There are no abuses of power. There is only legal behaviour and illegal behaviour. What government media regulators are trying to do is make the press a ‘public good’. This is what the ‘public interest’ test and ‘social responsibility’ is all about.
If you make the press a ‘public good’ then it’s allowable to regulate it for the ‘good’ of the public. In practice, that means politicians interfering with editorial independence, not guaranteeing it. You say defending the free press is up there with apple pie. But our point is that free speech is constantly under attack by people with reasonable sounding and ‘sensible’ arguments for why it can be limited or restricted. These are the people we should really fear.
The Wall Street Journal ran an editorial in 1925 and put it this way:
‘A newspaper is a private enterprise owing nothing whatever to the public, which grants it no franchise. It is therefore affected with no public interest. It is emphatically the property of the owner, who is selling a manufactured product at his own risk.’
The ‘social responsibility’ theory attempts to foist on the press some abstract higher obligations to the wellbeing of democracy. That’s rubbish. Democracy is alive and well on the Internet with digital media. The biggest threat to it is not abuse of media power requiring regulation. It’s the governments shutting down voices and imposing barriers in the name of the public good.
The press as a business will survive when it figures out how to make its revenue less dependent on advertisers and more dependent on readers. Like any good, long-lasting business, it will thrive when it serves its customers. That may mean less coverage of the real estate market and of the government. But frankly, that’s not our problem. Thank goodness.
As you have invited your readers to comment on their perception of theDaily Reckoning, I want to give you and your team my personal thanks.
I became a reader of your publications in early 2007 soon after my husband died. He had been a follower of the “Dines Letter” (the Original Gold Bug) since the 1970’s but I found your daily publication more informative and better researched. An added incentive was the way it was written – with that touch of irony and humour.
Although, I always followed what was happening in the economy and markets, my husband’s death put me in quite a different position, as I now needed to manage the family wealth (if that is what you call it). Needless to say my accountant’s financial advisor perceived my vulnerability and even had the temerity to suggest borrowing a million dollars from the bank although I was unemployed at the time. What on earth was he thinking?
As a gold bug from the 1970’s I knew the financial world was in trouble, but to say that out loud in 2007 was the ravings of a madman – woman in this case. Financial advisors employed by JB Were, bankers, accountants, financial advisors, disagreed with my analysis, being of the same mind – mindless. But, there you were just when I needed some encouragement.
TheDaily Reckoning gives us information that would be hard to find anywhere else. There is no newspaper, magazine or TV station that explains as clearly what manipulations are going on under our very noses.
Keep up the good work – telling the truth. And a big thank you
You’re welcome Valerie. Thanks for your letter, and keep hope alive!
for The Daily Reckoning Australia
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