New Castle News

January 31, 2014

Our Opinion: Government efforts to silence press are likely to backfire

By Staff
New Castle News

NEW CASTLE — People in positions of authority frequently find that a free press can be more than a little inconvenient.

Consider the situation that erupted Tuesday night after President Obama’s State of the Union address, when a reporter asked New York Congressman Michael Grimm about campaign finance charges filed against one of his supporters. Grimm responded by threatening to throw the meddlesome journalist over a balcony.

And he proposed breaking the reporter in half, “like a boy” to boot.

Such conduct can be dismissed as obnoxious behavior on the part of a single, arrogant public official. But journalists frequently draw the attention and ire of those in power. And the responses may involve far more than angry words.

For instance, The Associated Press learned last year that the United States government was monitoring calls made to its reporters. Supposedly, this was done in an effort to uncover a government leaker. But the breadth and scope of the effort was astonishing, and it appeared to extend far beyond the effort to uncover one leaker.

Plus, revelations that the government was monitoring phone calls made to a news organization undoubtedly would discourage all sorts of tips.

In America, both journalists and the public are fortunate that the nation’s founders were well aware of the need for a free press. They knew that those who wield power may seek to stifle the free flow of information for their own benefit.

A clear example of this can be seen today in China. The Beijing government — never a friend of free and open discussion — is being especially tough these days on journalists, including those representing American news organizations.

After a reporter from the New York Times was ordered to leave China this week, the Obama administration weighed in, criticizing the Chinese government’s efforts to silence the press. Recent months have seen increased efforts by Beijing to control foreign media.

Why? The Chinese government claims it’s because these news organizations are presenting false and negative information about the country. But the larger suspicion is that Beijing is upset over revelations that powerful families within China’s Communist Party are stashing away money overseas.

This information isn’t being reported by the Chinese press, which lacks the freedom of its Western counterparts. But in the Internet era, information available from assorted news sources will find ways around the wall of censorship China has built for its people.

The fact is that control of the press can work — at least for a time. But modern technology is difficult to completely contain. If the Chinese government is intent on keeping its people in the dark on the personal finances of its leaders, it may have a hard time succeeding.