These men are not messiahs, but they’re noble nonetheless
This comes out of the comments on the last post, Case For A Free Press. There seems to be a broad perception that publications need to be objective in order to deserve freedom. This is, by any Constitutional reading, simply incorrect. Freedom of speech is a right of private citizens (and, by extension, companies). It is not something reserved for God to periodically reveal his objective wisdom but for fallible and biased humans to publish their views into a marketplace. Out of that marketplace you get something akin to the truth, but that’s an emergent property – flowers out of dung. No single publication will ever contain the ‘truth’. Truth in that sense simply doesn’t exist when you’re talking about human opinion and analysis. The point of a free press is that you allow everything except major libel, obscenity and slander go and give readers the freedom to decide. Freedom looks like a damned ugly mess sometimes but – since God is usually unavailable for comment – it’s the best we can do.
Here’s the comment I made:
I think yâ€™all are misunderstanding a free press. The relevant section of the Consitution reads
(1) Every citizen is entitled to –
(a) the freedom of speech and expression including publication
Wijeya, the Leader, the Island, etc are private companies with private owners and accompanying biases. They are well within their rights to publish stuff with a bias, though a newspaper needs to maintain objectivity for broader market reasons. Private companies and citizens donâ€™t have to comply with some vague concept of objectivity in order to publish, and they certainly should be able to do so without random yakkos dragging them out of their cars and beating them on the streets. It is totally OK for a publication to have political biases, and they donâ€™t need the â€˜respectâ€™ of any government to get basic civilian protection from that government.
I repeat, freedom of the press exists regardless of the â€˜qualityâ€™ or bias of said publications. Freedom is funny like that.
In Sri Lanka it’s pretty strikingly obvious that all the papers and electronic media are biased. Wijeya, the Leader and Sirasa are more ‘opposition/UNP’. The Island is a bit JVP, etc. People are wrong in that none of them are LTTE, that accusation is just fear-mongering hyperbole. They are right, however, in that the media has biases.
However, they are certainly wrong in saying that this is a necessarily bad thing. They are damned wrong to assert that this somehow justifies the detention, abduction and murder of journalists. A free press is just that, free. If Mr. Wijewardena wants to write hagiographies of his extended family that’s actually OK. He won’t because he’ll sell less papers if the thing is a totally biased rag. However, he is well within his Constitutional rights to do so. See, the fun thing about the free press is that there is no nanny role, saying what’s right and what’s wrong. A bunch of stuff gets published, and people get to read and buy as they please. Objectivity gives a paper a broad readership, but that decision is made by the people, not conferred from on high. We decide if we feel like buying a newspaper, or if we’ll leave it on the stands cause it’s propaganda. As citizens we also have the right to publish our own stuff if the market is totally bereft.
The beauty is that if you give up central control and authority over truth you actually get more of it. The government newspapers – which ostensibly serve the public – are just total propaganda which people only pick up for the classifieds. That’s what happens when you trust someone else with ‘the truth’. The only way to really have truth is to let it go and let the citizens and markets of this nation sort it out. Truth is not some magical thing given to you by anyone else. We all have to work hard at it as readers and writers, expressing whatever we feel – biases and all. Any objectivity is actually a meta property that emerging out of vibrant and diverse free press – it is not contained in any one publication. If you want absolute truth you’d be better off putting your faith in holy books. If you want reality you actually need to do some writing, reading and thinking yourself. Under our Constitution we have this freedom, as messy as it may be. God protect the journalists trying to exercise it, and spare them our misplaced scorn.