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But, you say, look at the new technology that can penetrate any censorship system in the world. Look at the choices people have today. Look at how accessible information is today. Yes, the choices may be larger, but a case can be made they are not deeper -- that big money is replacing quality products and services with those of only the most massive appeal. The banquet table may be larger, but if it only contains "junk food," is there really more choice? Declining literacy, for example, is a real problem in the so-called developed world. That's one reason why newspapers are so worried about their future.
here is the relevance of all this to the emerging democracies around the world? Certainly the American experience, for all its messiness, provides a useful precedent, if not always a model.
For example, when one talks about an independent media, it is necessary to include financial independence as a prerequisite, in addition to political independence. The American revenue-earning model of heavy reliance on advertising is highly suspect in many former communist countries, but one has to weigh the alternatives. Are government and party subsidies less imprisoning? If journalists are so fearful of contamination by advertiser pressure, they can build internal walls between news and business functions, similar to those American newspapers erected earlier in this century.
If they are fearful of political contamination of the information-gathering process, they can build another wall separating the newsroom from the editorial department -- another important concept in modern American journalism.
The problem in many new democracies is that journalists who once had to toe the single-party line equate independence with opposition. Because they speak out against the government, they say they are independent. But haven't they just traded one affiliation for another? There is little room for unvarnished truth in a partisan press.
Is objectivity a luxury in societies that have only recently begun to enjoy the freedom to voice their opinions? Listen to a Lithuanian newspaper editor shortly after his country gained its independence: "I want my readers to know what their heads are for." His readers were used to being told not only what to think about, but what to think. Democracy requires the public to make choices and decisions. This editor wanted to prepare citizens for that responsibility with articles that inform but do not pass judgment. His circulation increased.
Though nearly 60 percent of the world's nations today are declared democracies -- a monumental change from a mere decade ago -- most of them have nevertheless instituted press laws that prohibit reporting on a whole array of subjects ranging from the internal activity and operations of government to the private lives of leaders. Some of these are well-intentioned efforts to "preserve public stability." But all of them, ALL of them, undermine self-governance.