Censorship and the Role of Government
Something that troubles me deeply is the level of official censorship we currently experience in America. Right now the United States is involved in two major foreign conflicts in Iraq and Afghanistan, among several other operations being carried out against other countries. For all of this war going on, we see very little of it in the media – either on television or in the papers. Everyone knows we have large media corporations with intense ability to cover and transmit in depth reporting and accurate news. Why then do we usually see the trivial and entertaining emphasized on the news, instead of in depth reporting of what is really happening with our country?
The UK Times Online reported on Sunday that WikiLeaks, an organization that publishes sensitive government documents leaked by whistle-blowers, while keeping their sources anonymous, was raided by government agents prior to the release of a video of a mission in Afghanistan in which 97 civilians were killed. WikiLeaks reported they came under surveillance in March, prior to releasing a video of an Apache helicopter killing several civilians, including two Reuters journalists, and seriously injuring two children.
According to the UK Times, their headquarters was seized, computers were taken, and Twitter posts from WikiLeaks director and journalist, Julian Assange, suggest they may fear for their lives. This comes after WikiLeaks published a document leaked from the Pentagon suggesting ways to discredit and eliminate the website in March of 2008. This all confirms a long held suspicion that the government of the United States is very much involved in official censorship, not unlike the government of China. This can be considered even more significant than China’s censorship, when factoring in the wars the United States is involved in.
President John F. Kennedy once said,
The very word “secrecy” is repugnant in a free and open society; and we are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in insuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. And there is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
These words ring truer today than they did when they were spoken almost half a century ago. Why do we condemn China for their policies of censorship when we have a problem right here in our own country? If the government is actively engaged in intimidating media and whistle-blowers, we can only infer they are doing things they don’t want us to know about.
Of course there will always be a need for security in protecting American lives that may be endangered, but what we are seeing here goes beyond that purpose. It shows that there are people on the government payroll whose job it is to figure out how to discredit and stifle the truth.
This has implications for many things, not least of which is your desire to choose the type of society you want to live in. If the government is so secretive that it is stifling information, which is being delivered by patriotic Americans who are putting themselves at great risk, how will we ever attain a full picture and decide for ourselves what direction the country should go in? How will we be able to decide when the government goes too far? We as a free people in an open society, should be afforded every ability to access and digest information that can help inform our decisions. It is the job of no man to tell another what he should think.
Another implication is in the role of government. In the Bill of Rights, the first amendment recognizes full and unabridged freedom of the press. The actions taken against WikiLeaks seem a clear infraction of First Amendment freedoms. We can also infer from this that the government is involved in deciding what is good to release to the public and what is not. Someone, being paid by your tax dollars, is deciding just how much you are going to be allowed to know, if anything at all.
Nowhere in the Constitution does it provide the government with powers over the minds of man. The Federal government and all agencies involved should not be permitted to exercise these assumed powers. It is the duty of the American people to inform themselves and make their own decisions. It is not the duty of the military, government, or intelligence agencies to mold public opinion or prevent the truths of war from becoming known to the people.