Newspapers encourage debate
Thank you for reminding us of the value of community newspapers, many of which thrive, both financially, and in terms of encouraging thoughtful debate, as some large dailies struggle.
Financial assistance from the federal government to newspapers was the subject of public debate in late 2009. It was not a popular idea. Some of the most outspoken opposition came from the media itself, who are well aware of the dangers of prior restraint, or censorship prior to publication.
Subsequent ideas of what can bolster struggling papers have included small business loans and tax breaks for start-up news organizations. Resolution is likely years in the future while the industry transitions.
Meanwhile, the number of news blogs online has exploded and TV news networks broadcast 24 hours a day. While many provide trustworthy information, others disregard truth, logic and accuracy in glossy presentation of tricky semantics, straw men and outright distortion.
Still, they are protected by the First Amendment to have their say, and to transmit it widely.
In contrast, Russia has re-criminalized libel, cracked down on dissent, and as you mention, imposed restrictions on the Internet.
Britain has been the site of heated debate since last month, as some cry for its press to be regulated and others respond with outrage at the idea.
Earlier this year, Canada’s House of Commons introduced Bill C-30, which would absolve authorities from needing a warrant to demand user data from telecom providers. This bill would make use of deep packet inspection, which you mention. DPI has been in practice internationally for many years as a means of identifying spam, viruses and other cyber-attacks. As applied in SOPA, it would have been used to identify network traffic that illegally trafficked digital intellectual property. As you know, SOPA was defeated. There exists no slippery slope toward U.S. legislation that would allow the intended use of DPI to undermine right to privacy, provided the public keeps informed.
So where can we keep informed? In part, right here. Freedom of the press is essential to democracy; that is the very subtext of the First Amendment. I would argue that along with freedom comes a responsibility to accuracy and truthfulness. And in the daily barrage of information, there is another element upon which democracy depends: Critical thinking, or the ability to evaluate information for quality.
After all, what power has a free press if its consumers cannot discern fact from fallacy, accuracy from agenda or verifiable reporting from hogwash? Newspapers, in print and online, are imperative to maintaining a thinking society.
The Westmoreland News has a long tradition of publishing and encouraging debate within its letters pages. It is one we will continue.
Cesca Waterfield, Editor