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The novice government becomes the master of censorship. They refuse to let journalists publish articles on topics that are controversial, stir public unrest, or portray the government in a poor light. They have no problem imprisoning writers that run afoul of reporting the approved narrative—even going so far as to “disappear” people that are chronic problems . Like I said…all the stuff of novices.
The expert government knows how to maintain the perception of a free press, while at the same time instilling fear into writers so that they will self-censor. Consider a recent report from PEN America, a leading group on literacy and human rights, which examines the effects of pervasive surveillance in the United States–the FDR Group surveyed 520 U.S. writers and found:
28% have curtailed or avoided social media activities, and another 12% have seriously considered doing so.
24% have deliberately avoided certain topics in phone or email conversations, and another 9% have seriously considered it.
16% have avoided writing or speaking about a particular topic, and another 11% have seriously considered it.
85% say they are worried about the current levels of government surveillance of Americans.
76% believe that increased government surveillance is especially harmful to writers because it impinges upon the privacy they need to create freely.
What good is free speech and free press if those who conduct investigative journalism are afraid to do their jobs? One of the bedrock ethics of journalism is to protect your sources–but how does that journalist do that if their phone calls are being listened to, if their emails are being read, their library records are being monitored, and their online searches are being recorded?
I’m not claiming that the United States is an expert government at forcing journalists to self-censor. On occasion, they’re willing to internationally pursue whistle blowers and sources to the point that the rest of the world laughs at us. However, all it takes is a couple of “actual threats,” and some outrageous NSA monitoring to make even mainstream journalists paranoid that the government is watching. Then again, is it paranoia, if it’s true?
…I probably shouldn’t have said that.
To read the full results of the survey, as well as check out the methodology, go to: http://www.pen.org/sites/default/files/Chilling%20Effects_PEN%20American.pdf
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