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[Reporter`s view] Press freedom is measure of democracy

Posted December. 15, 2000 15:18,   


Thomas Jefferson was the President of United States who passionately supported the freedom of the press. A statement he made in 1787, before he became the President of United States, in a letter to a friend concerning freedom of speech, is considered today the sacred words of the news industry.

"If I were given the choice between the government without the press and the press without the government, I would choose the press without the government," Jefferson wrote.

The statement, which has found its way into the textbooks at schools, also can be found framed and on the walls of the companies providing the news.

However, did Jefferson continue his support for the press even after his election as president? It doesn't appear to be the case. He criticized those in the media who were critical of him and even sought their imprisonment. As the newspapers began to criticize the policies he had made as president, he wrote, "Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. The newspaper must once again regain trust. If we apply the law strictly, it will facilitate the trust rebuilding. Through the criminal punishment of those who have crossed the line, the newspaper will once again regain its original."

The Jeffersonian teaching is commonly called on whenever a schism arises between the government and the news media. Even those who consider the freedom of the press as absolutely sacred will at times try to kill the voice of the press when they become the object of its darts. As such, whether a country has the freedom of the press or not also could be taken as to denote whether the country is truly democratic or not. There has never been a dictator who has allowed complete freedom of the press.

Chairman of the opposition Grand National Party Lee Hoi-Chang's letter statement outlining the victory for the upcoming election was made public. The low-down strategy of finding any scandalous weakness of the opponent to play off to the media and more so the strategy concerning the media was downright detestable.

"Seek out the scandals of the press writers and contributors who oppose the party and formulate a network of supporting writers and contributors," the statement said. It is much the same as calling for all methods, both ethical and unethical, in order to pressure and threaten the press. It is common for those who fiercely support the freedom of the press to do a turnabout once they come to power. It is a pity to see it already happening even before coming to power.

Min Byung-Wook, editorial writer