Freedom of the Press

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From an early age we were taught that one of the unique values for our country is “Freedom of the Press.” Of course, from the time of this country’s inception, until very recently, freedom of the press was only available for the privileged few that own a press. The traditional understanding of what constitutes “editorializing” was, in ages past, based upon what appeared on the opinion page.

Today we understand that every decision by a publisher is an editorial decision.. Whether a story runs above the fold, at the beginning of a newscast, or if it runs at all is based upon the opinion of someone. To those of us who thrive within a world of competing ideas, this is entirely ok as we can always engage in channel surfing.

In contrast, those intellectually dishonest folks, the ones that only want to hear opinions aligning with their own, have become a problem within the context of our participatory democracy. The “Consent of the Governed” as advanced through the Declaration of Independence, presupposes an informed consent. The 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights put forth by the United Nations in Article 21 states that “The will of the people shall be the basis of the authority of government”.

The December 2019 survey by Netcraft revealed there are about 1.3 billion active websites across over 243 million unique Internet Domain names. The number of WordPress installations on web servers is estimated, by several survey organizations, to be around 455 million. This clearly dwarfs the number of printing presses manufactured over the entire span of human history.

The advent of the Internet gave us tremendous hope for finally making freedom of the press truly real. Those hopes were dashed recently, by very real enemies of First Amendment integrity, in part, through their coordinated attacks on net-neutrality. Our nation has, as a result, reverted to a condition of severe vulnerability. Now, certain news can be advanced or retarded, at will, by Internet Service Providers (ISPs) operating primarily as common carriers, traditional conduits in the telecommunications space.

On October 1, 2019, the United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia ruled the FCC had authority to reclassify internet service providers as “information services” under Title I of the Telecommunications Act, rather than as “common carriers” that can be more heavily regulated.

The hop-skippety-jump logic used by the Court to differentiate, between “information services” and “common carriers,” attempted to contrast the two categories by citing the function of Domain Name Services (DNS) as somehow unique to the information services. One would have to wonder if the judges ever dialed 411 or even used a phone book. While DNS may sound like mystic art to someone other than a technology worker, it is simply a list that correlates names with numerical addresses. Just how this is different, from the directory that shows your name along side your phone number, was apparently too technical a consideration for certain highly disciplined jurists sitting as a court of appeals.

Special interest groups also bring a dollar skew, into the nominations, confirmations and accommodations for judges as well as the public discourse. Issues affecting everyone are often crowded out or eclipsed as legislators are enabled and financially bolstered by overpaid, underwhelming CEOs. This occurs even as they characterize themselves as constitutional conservatives.

They masquerade as originalists and textualists as they disregard the declaration of intent, the mission statement, the value proposition, the cardinal precepts, and the constitutional imperatives as they were so carefully delineated in the Preamble to the United States Constitution. The Framers of our constitutionally grounded democratic republic did not intend for unrepresentative elected officials to treat the United States Constitution as little more than a buffet from which they can pick and choose.

Professional journalists and politicians have also facilitated the development of polarized news sources. They have, at times, belittled the contributions of individual bloggers that, while they may lack a certain journalistic discipline, bring much greater diversity to the public discourse. So-called advocacy journalism has also entered the fray. It is, of course, not true journalism any more than agenda science is true science.

To address the problems associated with a misinformed citizenry, unable to exercise “informed consent” as they consult suspect historical accounts, concerned historians are now working to leverage the consensus and immutability features of blockchain, the same technology undergirding crypto-currencies. In this way they hope to protect future generations from revisionist history.

While egomaniacal leaders actively engage in squelching diversity of opinion, we should closely examine the actual business practices of those tele-communications companies that were once, but are no longer classified as common carriers. While the murder of Jamal Khashoggi and the attempted murder of Alexi Navalny are high profile cases in point, there are also sinister forces at work within the United States, to thwart the collective will of We the People.

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