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Freedom of the Press in the Wake of Trump’s Twitter Ban

Libertad de Prensa, Twitter, Trump,

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Given the debates of the moment, we return once again to talk about freedom of expression and particularly press freedom. In a free society, this freedom is of immense and irreplaceable importance. The “fourth power” or “counter-power” par excellence is more relevant and transcendental than the other three powers. This is the meaning of Thomas Jefferson’s dictum that “were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate a moment to prefer the latter.”

As it is known, the primary right is the right to life and the protection of one’s body, followed by the right to express one’s thoughts and the use and disposition of what is legitimately acquired. The freedom to say what each one considers convenient is not only a right, but it consists of an inexorable procedure to acquire knowledge, a process that has the characteristic of temporariness open to refutation. The latter makes progress possible.

If the rights of third parties are violated, it will be necessary to resolve the matter in the courts, but never, and under no circumstances, to insinuate prior censorship, which means that the state apparatus interferes with the sacred right of freedom of expression or tolerates the use of force by others to block it. In this context, it must be clear that each media or platform decides with its own property what it considers best for its interests.

To incorporate some fertile land into the sea of ignorance in which we are debating, it is necessary to make the most of the existing knowledge due to its dispersed and fractured nature among millions of people. Einstein has rightly stated that “we are all ignorant, only on different subjects.” To take advantage of this valuable decentralization, it is essential to open wide the doors and windows to incorporate the greatest possible dose of knowledge.

As has been said, this naturally requires freedom of thought and the consequent freedom to express it, which is inserted into the random evolutionary process of always provisional refutations and corroborations.

This precious freedom is indispensable not only for what we have just stated, but also for protecting and limiting political power and opening channels to information about everything that happens within governments to ensure the fulfillment of their specific functions and minimize the risks of overreach and abuse of power.

It is indispensable for journalism to investigate when the apparatus of force that we call the government tries to hide information under the cloak of the always pasty laws that aim to regulate the media and the foolishness of pretending that the sources of the information are exposed, alleging “national security,” “state secrets,” or wielding “treason” and grotesque things like “contempt” or “destitute” intentions on the part of the representatives of the oral and written press.

This is relevant because Twitter and others have decided to suspend the accounts of some characters that, at this point in this text, it is not necessary to specify in order not to enter into another discussion, although we will mention them below. This decision has generated angry protests from some sectors claiming that freedom of the press has been violated. Nothing could be further from the truth. Each media or digital platform decides its own property what it thinks is best without anyone being able to twist its decision by force.

The press’s freedom does not mean that this or that media or platform should publish or transmit what it does not want to do. One proceeds in one way or another is a matter that can be criticized by third parties but in no way give them the power to contradict the owners’ decision.

Technically speaking, any media could establish that only those with sky-blue eyes or those who are over six feet tall are published, surely a rule of this nature will not lead to the success of the venture, but this is another matter. Of course, this does not mean that it cannot be complied with as agreed with users.

If some people do not like certain media rules, they can establish others that compete, and if they do not have enough resources, they can sell part of their initiative to others and thus achieve their objective. If no one agrees to contribute funds to this venture, it means that there are other priorities given the always scarce productive factors. Since everything cannot be faced simultaneously, the project in question must wait its turn in open markets. The harmful monopolies are the legal ones; the other translates into the first to provide the service.

There are editorial lines or ways of transmitting news and opinion columns that one may or may not share, but this is the subject of other debates that under no circumstances should interfere with the freedom of the press. The resolutions of the media and platforms are in their owners’ hands, similar to the owners of the house who decide who enters and who does not enter their homes. The decisions may not please third parties, but this is another matter of a very different nature.

We make a parenthesis to point out that this is equivalent to what happened with Simon & Schuster, who decided to abandon the publication of the book by Republican Senator Josh Hawley due to his encouragement of the excesses in Congress (by the way, a work that in its title reflects an absurdity in a free and open market: The Tyranny of Big Tech).

press freedom - twitter - facebook - censorship
Freedom of the press does not mean that this or that media or platform should publish or transmit what it does not want to do. (Efe)

Twitter and other platforms have referred to Donald Trump because of the risk owners estimate of accelerating violence in the United States, but as we have pointed out each media outlet decides what it does or does not do with its property and those that are not reliable for one reason or another will not be consulted. It is not the case to emphasize the above-mentioned reasons given by the media in question because, as it has been said, it could have been others.

Let us bear in mind that according to the classic definition, Justice implies “giving each one his own,” and what is his refers to private property to what we have referred to above, the effect of the decision of each owner of the media or platform. In any case, given the extension and intensity that the debate has acquired, it is necessary to summarize what I have stated above on the subject and for the purposes of this discussion to leave aside the confusing, obscure and controversial Communications Decency Act of 1996, especially its section 230.

It is not acceptable to pretend to play by shared rules about democracy and when the election results are adverse they turn out to be unknown. This has been the case after the ratification by the fifty states and after the repeated rejection of claims of alleged fraud in different instances, including before the Supreme Court of Justice.

After Trump’s embarrassing telephone conversation with Georgia’s Secretary of State Brad Raffensperger, in which he suggested modifying the election result, and after the violent episodes in Congress, it turns out that none other than the president of the United States tells the seditious that led the riots in the Capitol that they are very special people and that he has great appreciation for them.

The Secretary of Education, Betsy DeVos, and the Secretary of Transport, Elaine Chao, had to resign, claiming that Trump was responsible for instigating those who forcibly broke into the Parliament building causing enormous damage and his former Chief of Staff, John Kelly, and former Secretary of Defense Colin Powell proposed that he be removed via the 25th Amendment. Only then Trump, late and reluctantly recognized that his presidency was over and stated that the transition of command should be orderly and peaceful. Then Interior Secretary Chad Wolf resigned and the FBI established security measures to prevent further unrest.

Peggy Nooman, a contributor to The Wall Street Journal, ABC and NBC News, and a former speechwriter for Ronald Reagan wrote that the “principal person responsible, the President of the United States, must be removed from office through the 25th Amendment or impeachment, whichever is quicker.” Because of the short time available until the change of command, it is unlikely that these decisions can be completed at all steps, but I mention them for the purpose of checking the climate at the time.

Nevertheless, Republican senators such as Mitt Romney, Patrick Toomey, and Lisa Murkoski and members of the House of Representatives such as Adam Kinzinger have called for Trump’s immediate resignation. Now none other than Senate Republican leader Mitch McConnell has said he welcomes the impeachment of Trump (for the second time).

Even Vice President Mike Pence had to absorb Trump’s onslaught to get him to cancel the formal and final recount before both houses of Congress, which he rejected outright and proceeded to confirm President-elect Joe Biden after being certified as victorious.

William Webster – former federal judge, former director of the IMF and the CIA – publicly declares that he is embarrassed by Trump. And in the international order, the condemnations were not long in coming, for reasons of space we only highlight the declarations of Angela Merkel who emphasized: “I deeply regret that President Trump has not admitted defeat.”

From an economic perspective, the net balance of Trump’s administration has resulted in a huge increase in public spending, the deficit, and foreign debt. It is true that he has lowered some taxes, but as I pointed out on another occasion, this brings to mind when the Spanish conquistadors handed out little colored mirrors to the Indians and then imposed the slave-owning institutions of the mita and yanaconazgo.

As his first Secretary of State -Rex Tillerson, formerly CEO of ExxonMobil, the third largest company in the world- has repeatedly pointed out, “Trump has no idea of the meaning of free trade and many of the things he claims are not in line with reality”.

Trump’s attitudes have been highlighted several times since the events in Charlottesville where he foolishly described those marching under the swastika insignia and the emblems of so-called “white supremacy” as “good people.”

The attorney general – William Barr – has stated that “the president has betrayed his office” and the former president of the House of Representatives and former candidate for the vice presidency in the 2012 elections – Paul Rayan – has declared that “it is difficult to conceive of a more anti-democratic and anti-conservative act than an intervention to annul the results of the state-certified elections and deprive millions of Americans of their rights”.

It is very true that a good part of the Democratic Party teams aim to intensify the already overwhelming size of Leviathan, but this in no way justifies attempting to operate under certain rules and then violating them when the results are adverse, as has clearly been the case with Donald Trump. It is not a question of allowing oneself to be stabbed by others so as not to be machine-gunned by them, especially when one claims to be a democracy and, as has been said, once the results are obtained one pretends not to know them.

The issue of the size of the state apparatus and the serious problems it causes, especially for the most vulnerable, is another level of discussion that must be resolved in the exchange of ideas.

In this sense, I personally dealt with the issue in my book United States against United States, published in the original edition by the Fund for Economic Culture, where I highlight the extraordinary values established by the Founding Fathers and how from one time to the present there has been a manifest deterioration in those values.

The hope lies in the number of institutions dedicated to the study and dissemination of these principles, which concentrates a growing number of young people who publish and meet in seminars to study and disseminate the principles of free society.

Apparently the times of the Index Expurgatorius in which popes tried to restrict book readings, have passed, but curators who try to rule over private media domains or platforms burst onto the scene, slap the Internet in the face or, as Richard Cobden said in the nineteenth century, establish exorbitant “taxes on knowledge.”

The problems arise due to the presumption of knowledge of rulers who, without any trace of modesty and contrary to Einstein’s suggestion, proclaim themselves to be aware of everything that happens on the planet, and who give vehement advice to obligated and obsessive listeners to the unstoppable verbiage of the rulers of that time.

Alberto Benegas Lynch (h)

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