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DEFEND US FROM THE DEFENDERS

by

Glenn Brigaldino


In defense of a plutocratic definition of democracy, the self-proclaimed free world leaders care little about the freedom of those who find courage enough to disagree. Freedom of thought and expression, peaceful protest and criticism as well as defending civil liberties are less possible than just a year ago. In the name of freedom, western Governments have introduced a series of measures and legislation that curtails many of the freedoms often taken for granted and deeply embedded in an open society. Doors are closing for sure as democratic rights are under pressure to become more conditional or a matter of privilege.

The kind of news and information on TV screens from London to Rome to D.C. is more filtered and less informative today than it has been in many years. Too few citizens appear to notice that what is printed in their daily newspapers, originates from a small circle of news agencies who are more concerned with selling spectacular news items than providing broad news coverage as a commitment to public service. Analytical reports and political criticism "doesn't sell", at least not easily and in any case the entertainment value is low. News on TV, presented by near-celebrity speakers in a show business like manner, the importance of content as a defining category for news reporting, simply fades away. Facts and breaking news stories have long replaced investigative journalism and contextual analysis. In the fast-paced virtual world, "info-tainment" rules. Without access to the Internet or if lacking the knowledge of where to "surf", most citizens are either excluded from alternative news sources or effectively shielded from information that is relevant for understanding local, national and international events. Information choices are put forward on overloaded commercial platforms where items of a critical and/or non-commercial nature are rarely served.

Reporters without borders, a Paris-based association committed to defending press freedom around the world, has just published a first worldwide index of press freedom.There are several real surprises the report reveals, not least of all the remarkable low score of some western countries commonly believed to be deeply democratic. Thus Hong Kong (18), Benin (21) and Chile (24) easily surpass right-wing Berlusconi's Italy, ranked 40. The self-proclaimed leaders of the free world, the USA and Britain, fail to make it into the top ten, ranking only 17 and 21, unimpressingly behind Slovenia (14) and Costa Rica (15). Ecuador ranked 20, easily outranks rightist Austria (26) or conservative-led Spain (29). As the organization explains, the "index of press freedom is a portrait of the situation based on events between September 2001 and October 2002. It does not take account of all human rights violations, only those that affect press freedom". It should be used as an indicator to warn against complacence in guarding press freedom and as it shows clearly, not all is well at home, where gathering, selection and dissemination of news and information is increasingly concentrated in ever fewer individual or corporate hands.

In my view, an erosion of independent thought, debate and opinion is occurring throughout so-called advanced democracies. It's a gradual downward slide, rarely overt or much noticed by the majority of citizens. Many of these citizens may happen to know that 1984 is the title of a famous book by George Orwell, but most of them would be hard-pressed to say who Rosa Luxemburg was, the revolutionary socialist who upheld that freedom is always the freedom of those of a different opinion.

Diffusely satisfied with the reading and viewing choices available, many citizens in the free world tend to be opinionated rather than well informed about the world around them. Freedom in the free West is evermore reduced or equivalent to freedom of movement: from one local set of alienating social, economic and political conditions to another one, perhaps fifteen hundred miles away. Often failing or at a loss to understand freedom as always in the making, in need of political commitment and personal attachment, citizens across countries, social and political divides accept the picture of freedom presented to them at face value. Only when personal experiences of suspension and limitation of freedoms mount does discontent form and occasionally lead to public action. More questions about freedom, not only press freedom need to be ask and alternative information channels selected and supported, if freedom will be able to rebound from the current assault from within. This assault is more than a threat to democracy; it is nothing less than a calculated step towards rule of the few and containment of the masses, not unlike ancient Rome. Undoubtedly, freedom can and must be defended by democratic societies. Informed and open-minded citizens will be able to decide whether actions in far-away places serve freedom and democracy better than preventing the uprooting in our front-yard.







ABOUT THE AUTHOR


Born in Regina but raised in Germany, Glenn Brigaldino returned to Canada in 2000 . A social scientist and specialist in development cooperation, he has lived and worked in Europe and Africa, as well as Asia. Now based in Ottawa, he runs a small consulting firm (GB-BASE) that provides advisory and management services in development cooperation and policy management. Much of his writing relates to international affairs, with occassional attempts at fiction (still in progress). He remains associated as an online editor/web-scout for epo.de, a German web-portal on international development issues as well as with Suite101.com.

Glenn Brigaldino has just launched an online course on environmental management that you might want to check out. And if you like that, you'll love to read his e-book on Africa and globalisation.








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