I’ve been thinking about Connie Veneracion’s position on press freedom, which appeared in the Manila Standard Today last Tuesday. Some friends had asked me for my opinion on Sassy Lawyer’s deconstruction of "yellow journalism," as a working journalist myself. I am tempted to simply refer everyone who asked to Tocqueville’s chapter on "the liberty of the press." (It’s available on the Web, by the way, in one of the apparently many Henry Reeve translations.)
Of course, that would be a cop-out; allow me to find the time either today or tomorrow to put my thoughts in writing. (How do I know what I think, E. B. White wisely asked, unless I see it on paper?)
But I think Tocqueville strikes the right note: he is forced by an uncompromising realism to a weary, wary embrace of press freedom.
In my copy of Democracy in America (yup, another Henry Reeve translation), Tocqueville writes:
I confess that I do not entertain that firm and complete attachment to the liberty of the press which things that are supremely good in their very nature are wont to excite in the mind; and I approve of it more from a recollection of the evils it prevents than from a consideration of the advantages it ensures.
But once he had made the difficult decision to embrace the liberty of the press, he spares no effort in its defense.
But in the countries in which the doctrine of the sovereignty of the people ostensibly prevails, the censorship of the press is not only dangerous, but it is absurd. When the right of every citizen to co-operate in the government of society is acknowledged, every citizen must be presumed to possess the power of discriminating between the different opinions of his contemporaries, and of appreciating the different facts from which inferences may be drawn.
And there, right there, is where the press comes in.