Pressurising The Press

Farasha Pharis, III Year B. A. Economics

It may have been called the fourth estate back in its heyday, yet today the estate is being executed. The executor is curbing the press’ rights to expression, its position as an unbiased observer and its duty to inquire. Taking away the press’ rights has been seen as an act of cowardice throughout history. Kings have done it to protect their place on the throne. Colonizers have done it to prevent the uproar for freedom and now governments are doing it to fool the public.

The press has changed in this generation. It went from ‘they’ to ‘us’. With social media, blogs and anonymous posts everyone was willing to play. Some bet on the safety of numbers (‘in this sea of people, no one will find me’). Some are outspoken and willing to take the risk because going ‘viral’ makes you invincible (‘no one can bring me down without a show’). Between two vastly different circulators of news, the journalists have been side-lined. They don’t have safety in numbers, protection or even a sense of assurance. Journalists are safe neither in the field nor behind a news desk. If I can’t verify news about an election because only one agency has covered it while others feared the ruling party, I am misinformed and robbed off my right to information.

We see widespread silence replace outrage. Even if a media outlet is able to cover an event without any biasedness, the affected party gets away with a single line, ‘that news was fake, I will sue them’. The print media is dying and we are responsible for it. The free news we receive from these very outlets through their apps and social media accounts are killing the advertisement sales that keep them afloat. When does integrity step aside to let profit making step in?

The BBC and The Economist are two from a handful of companies that have held their ground. This constantly backfires on them. With Al-Jazeera in a perpetual judicial fight against Egypt, who detains their journalists almost as a routine since first covering the Arab Springs, their willingness to put their people in such a position will decline. Trump’s only valid argument ever was that CNN is biased; this stands true but his policy to deal with this is an echo of all his other policies – irrational and impulsive.

Just as innovations and inventions travel across borders, so does gagging and intimidation. From one country to another we ape and follow suit. When one curbed rights silently by detaining journalists on grounds of ‘national security’, another attacked a key player as if to warn others. Banning a news agency is a politically manipulated move that seeps into every individual’s fundamental rights.

When we are told how to live and what to say by a governing body, it is a dictatorship. When the press is being gagged, it is an emergency period. When our freedom of expression is curbed through indirect intimidation, it is a blunt threat. When all of this happens together, we are doomed.


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