The Importance Of The Press – Сustom Literature essay

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The Importance of the Press The newspaper is a powerful medium. It is powerful because it has theability to influence the way that people view the world, as well as theiropinion of what they see. In peaceful times (or in times of oppression, forsometimes they can appear to be happening at the same moment) the press isusually one of the instruments used by the state in order to maintain the statusquo. However, during times of political unrest it is often the press whobecomes the major antagonist in the fight against the government. Why is this so? Why does the press get so deeply involved in, not justthe reporting of, but the instigating and propagating of political change? Inorder to properly answer this question there are several other key ideas andquestions which must first be examined. To understand the nature of the press'involvement in political change, one must initially understand the nature ofpolitical change in its own right.

In this vein, the first section of the paperis dedicated to this investigation. An examination of the motives behindrevolution will be given in order to provide a framework for the second part ofthe paper, which will look at the involvement of the press during revolutionarytimes in more specific terms. The French revolution of 1789 will be used as abackdrop for this inquiry. There are many different types of political movements, and accordinglythere are many different reasons for these movements to occur. Value-orientedand norm-oriented movements deal with matters of social and political concern, but do so in the setting of the already existing political and social structures. Revolutionary movements seek to make fundamental changes to society in order toestablish a completely new political and social order.1 The distinction beingthat the first aims to make subtle changes to society from within, while thelatter's aim is to make drastic changes to society by getting rid of theprinciples that society was based on. Usually this will involve a change in political beliefs and values, orpolitical ideology. In today's world there are numerous forms of politicalideologies, but in essence they are all derived from two basic root ideologies;socialism and liberalism. Socialism is an ideology which places power in thehands of the state, rather than in the people who populate it

Examples ofmodern socialist states include: the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Other more extreme forms of socialism are fascism and authoritarianism. Theseideologies more closely resemble the monarchies that ruled much of Europe andthe new world, before the great revolutions. Monarchism is an ideology thatbelieves in the absolute rule of a 'royal' family. The king and/or queen havethe power to make decisions without question from anyone. The series ofrevolutions which included the English Reformation, the American and FrenchRevolutions, and to a lesser extent the revolts in Upper and Lower Canada, wereall confrontations over who should hold political ascendancy.

Moreover, theywere clashes of ideology, between monarchism and liberalism. Liberalism was developed during the Enlightenment. This was a period oftime when writers, scientists, and philosophers began to openly question certainaspects of society and the role that they should or should not play. Attackedwere the kings and queens, the clergy and feudalist system as a whole. Theideas of this time formed the basis of revolutionary thought. The goal of therevolutionaries was to build a new society based on liberal values of theEnlightenment.

'Liberal politicians in Europe wanted to establish a frameworkof legal equality, religious toleration and freedom of the press.'2 It was thedeprivation of these principles, by the monarchical leaders, which led todiscontent among the people of France. Above all, liberalism stresses theprimacy of individual rights. One can see that these ideals were at theforefront of French revolutionary thought by examining the Declaration of rights, which in 1789 stated that, 'All men are equal by nature,' and brought republicanconcepts such as liberty, equality and fraternity into awareness.3When one looks at the motives behind the great revolutions of our time, a recurring theme seems to prevail in all of them. There is a part of humannature which makes freedom almost as much of a necessity as food and water. Whenpeople's freedom is somehow oppressed or taken away, discontent emerges. 'Assoon as discontent is generalized a party is formed which often becomes strongenough to struggle against the Government.'4 The conditional nature of thisstatement can be attributed to the fact that discontent among a minority ofpeople is not enough to cause a revolution. There are other factors which arenecessary for a complete revolution to transpire.

First, there must be a mediumwhereby the masses are able to learn about the principles which will be foughtfor. Second, there must be a means by which the masses can acquire sufficientknowledge of the wrongs that have been perpetrated against them, in order tofoster and unite support for the cause. Third, there must be a way for the masses to receive information about the revolution all the time, so that supportdoes not wain, and so the revolutionaries can organize itself. The best andeasiest way for these factors to be satisfied is through the news media. The involvement of the news media is important to any revolutionarycause.

In a democratic revolution it is especially important. When thepopulation revolts, in an effort to obtain democracy or a more liberal society, it is only natural that the press become involved. The reason for this is notas complicated as it may seem to be. In a democratic revolution, the radicalsare fighting for the rights that they believe they should have, if for no otherreason than by the fact that they are born. These rights are based on liberalvalues such as the right to life, liberty and property. They also include theright to freedom of speech and expression, and all the aspects that go with it, like freedom of the press.

In a revolution where freedom of the press is beingfought for, it is only natural that the press play a large role in the fight. Harold Innis, when observing the development of a free press stated, 'theadvantages of a new medium will become such as to lead to the emergence of a newcivilization.'5 Without a free press, the success of the great revolutions andthe societies that they helped to create, would not have been possible. So we have seen why the press becomes involved in revolutions. Essentially it is because the press, as we know it, is a liberal and democraticinstitution which gives it strong ties to the revolutionary cause. However, thequestion of the role that the press actually plays in a revolution still remains. It is obvious that during a revolution, the newspapers do more than just reporton the facts. The facts, while still important, are not what the people want tohear or what they need to hear. There are three essential functions that thepress perform during a revolution: education, unification and the safeguardingof the new constitution.

For a revolution to begin, the people must know what it is they arerevolting against. For a revolution to continue, once started, the people musthave knowledge of the events that have been carried out in their name. TheEnlightenment served this first purpose somewhat, but for the most part, theideas of the Enlightenment were confined to the upper classes for reasons ofwealth and education. The ideas of that period did not reach the massesbecause they were either unable to afford the books, or unable to r...

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