[R-G] Freedom of the Press: What they don't teach you in J school

Anthony Fenton fentona at shaw.ca
Thu Jul 31 09:59:29 MDT 2008

Freedom of the Press: What they don't teach you in J school
by Diana Barahona -

La Habana 22 de julio 2008

The United States has one of the highest levels of press freedom in  
the world. We know this because four different press freedom  
organizations say so. The fact that all four receive generous funding  
from the U.S. government doesn’t seem to matter.

Fidel told Frei Betto in an interview that he considered freedom of  
the press to be nothing more than freedom of ownership, and this is  
true: money is power, and the U.S. press has the power to choose our  
political leaders for us. Just ask Dennis Kucinich, John Edwards and  
Ralph Nader, and they will tell you how they were disappeared from the  
2008 presidential race as quickly and definitively as any Soviet  
leader who fell into disfavor with Stalin.

The current definition of freedom of the press was developed by the  
monopoly press, with the support of the state, and the tortuous logic  
goes like this:

Governments, although they are well intentioned, tend towards  
corruption and abuse.

An independent press is necessary to inform the public about this  
corruption and abuse.

Independence is assured by not receiving any money or subsidies from  
the government.

To maintain this independence, the press must be commercially  

Therefore, the more commercially successful the press is, the freer it  

A communications text written by professors at Cal State Long Beach  
defines democracy in an equally crass way when it proposes this

argument: If democracy means distributing the greatest amount of goods  
to the greatest number of people, and advertising facilitates this  
distribution, then advertising is democracy (yes, the text actually  
says this).

Here’s the reality of the situation, which you would be unwise to  
speak of in a journalism class:

The transnational corporations control the state.

The big media companies are transnational corporations.

Therefore, the big media companies control the state.

What are the consequences of a state controlled by transnational  
corporations, among them the media giants? First, the media buy laws  
that enable them to become more consolidated and accumulate more  
capital. Second, the media will support the state as long as it is  
obedient to the transnational capitalist class. Third, if a leader  
manages to become head of state and decides that his loyalty is to the  
people who elected him, the media will wage war without quarter until  
that leader is gone.

The Rise and Fall of Reporters Without Borders

Journalists Jean-Guy Allard, Salim Lamrani and Maxime Vivas have  
written all there is to write about Reporters Without Borders. The  
facts are there for anyone interested in reading them. I would just  
like to add two philosophical points to the discussion of this  
government- and corporate-sponsored group.

The first is that although RSF has close links to the U.S. government,  
it also receives money from France, the European Union, the United  
Nations (until recently), from billionaire foundations such as Soros’  
Open Society Institute and Taiwan. It is also receiving money from  
other sources, but who calls the shots?

Given the rise of a transnational capitalist class and the creation of  
supranational institutions such as the WTO, the EU, the IMF and World  
Bank, and the WEF, sociologists are struggling to create a new  
definition of imperialism. Many people still believe in U.S  
imperialism because it was the United States that lead the worldwide  
transformation that is globalization. However the overthrow of  
President Aristide in 2004, although lead by the United States, was  
actually a collective effort among the elites of four countries (five  
if you count the Dominican Republic), and it was one in which RSF,  
international media and NGOs played an important propaganda role. A  
transformed UN deployed troops after the coup to restore stability,  
not to restore constitutionality. Other imperialist actions are taking  
on a transnational character as well.

One way to resolve this problem is to conceptualize a transnational  
state, which was proposed by William Robinson in A Theory of  
Transnational Capitalism, among other works. From there, one can  
hypothesize a kind of imperialism practiced by this state – not as a  
unified monolith, of course, but a state in formation which already  
has powerful institutions at its disposal.

This is one reason for the revival of interest in the ideas of Antonio  
Gramsci. The transnational state, like the nation-state, reproduces  
itself in civil society; hence, the amazing proliferation of NGOs  
created or transformed to serve transnational capital, as well as the  
buying off of existing NGOs. This is a long, imprecise explanation for  
my hypothesis that RSF serves neither one country nor several, but the  
transnational state.

My second point is simpler, and it is that one of the propagandistic  
weapons RSF employs is to accuse leftist Latin American presidents of  
provoking political polarization. This is just one of its tactics that  
demonstrates the class character of its work. Polarization is a social  
phenomenon that occurs when two opposing classes are in conflict. It  
is only related to press freedom because the capitalist press is  
acting as a protagonist in the class struggle, committing sedition on  
behalf of powerful economic interests, of which it is one, but  
enjoying total impunity in the name of freedom of the press. The only  
way for a leftist president to avoid increasing polarization is to  
cease the class struggle. But RSF takes the position that the right to  
self defense exists only for capital.

The minute a journalist starts to write a story he is making choices  
colored by his biases. In the face of transcendental events, there is  
no such thing as impartiality. If a journalist hasn’t picked a side  
consciously, he or she is already on the wrong side.


Diana Barahona recently earned a BA in journalism from CSULB, where  
she was disruptive, disrespectful and had an agenda, according the  
chair of the journalism school. She is now studying sociology at CSUF.

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