press freedom an eye for the truth

I am riding a most beautiful white horse over a flowering carpet of deep green and bright yellow. Together we move through hanging mist and…

I am riding a most beautiful white horse over a flowering carpet of deep green and bright yellow.

Together we move through hanging mist and sparkling light. It is enormously quiet, the sort you can only experience in big spaces.

Then, out of nowhere, another rider approaches.

From his coat he draws a long knife and hurls it directly at me. It strikes my horse, lodging in its left eye. Moments later, I am calmly removing the badly damaged eye and then ride on, slowly and very unsteady.

I sit up in bed, drenched. I have a hard time getting back to sleep.

In the morning I relive the dream, believing it was somehow connected to the writing I had been doing the day before.

For some time now I have been going over countless media reports and news conferences on the latest attempts by both Prime Minister Stephen Harper and President George W. Bush to restrict the flow of news to the general public.

How, I find myself asking, can we ever hope to become good citizens without unfettered access to the cavernous and complex world of government?

Without full access to government by a free and responsible media there is no hope for democracy, period.

We are only fully functioning citizens to the extent we have knowledge of a host of divergent and well-informed points of view.

The blatant and orchestrated misinformation by some government sources, along with surveillance of reporters and their sources, should be deeply troubling to all citizens.

Restricting the ability of members of Parliament to talk freely to members of the media — as Harper has done — and to initiate an unprecedented electronic war using illegal wiretaps and intercepted phone conversations — as Bush has done — puts democracy at risk.

While there is little doubt some members of the media err terribly in the pursuit of their craft, others get it right.

Accurate, interpretative, and well-written news is what restrains government on the one hand and what strings citizens together on the another. 

Like it or not, the voice of democracy, the expressed attitudes and values of the commons, is generated through thoughtful dialogue published as news.

While few would dispute the fact that democracy is certainly the high point of civilization, this does not mean it cannot at times be an ugly affair.

Governments lie and distort, bribe and promote.

On the one hand, and much to my chagrin, this may be necessary.

As governments more fully engage in strategic military strategy, organized crime investigations and market manipulation, secrecy finds its niche. 

On the other hand, government is more likely to fabricate policy and twist the truth in order to conceal constitutional breaches, i.e., departmental fraud, war crimes and human rights violations.

Poet Kenneth Rexroth once said, “The art of being civilized is the art of learning to read between the lies.”

He is right of course, and a free media is the surest and quickest way to give ordinary citizens the ammunition they need to read between the lies.

But, of course, the diligent work of an investigative media is but one of several avenues open to those of us intent on unearthing democratic truth.

Allowing, in fact insisting, that a member of Parliament can and should have the right to discuss public policy with citizens and members of the media alike, is the most expedient way to understand the nuances of democracy.

To control the broadcasting of our government’s thinking on critical issues and complex policies is not only disingenuous, it should be highly offensive to citizen and parliamentarian alike.

Harper’s policy of playing important information close to the vest is a harbinger of things to come.

It was just this sort of selective secrecy that opened the floodgates to the sponsorship scandal.

The US National Security Administration shenanigans of President Bush have become so dangerous to individual freedom, constitutional liberty and democracy they have put world stability at great risk.

Today, as never before, with global warming and global warfare, with water shortages and fuel shortages, famine, AIDS and viral pandemics, citizens must have immediate access to honest, accurate and broad information.

The reason this is so important is that in order to fix these problems, we must first fix ourselves.

And we cannot begin to do so without good and participatory information.

In the end, if we are to survive and thrive in the 21st century we must be willing, capable and enthusiastic about going it alone.

We cannot depend, without question, on experts, politicians and corporations to show us the way.

Toward this aim we would be smart to insist that government does not hinder, by either reprisal or intimidation, the ability of the media to lend us an eye for the truth.