By Henry Srebrnik, [Summerside, PEI] Journal Pioneer
U.S. President Donald Trump, Hungary’s prime minister Victor Orban, the right-wing Polish Law and Justice (PiS) ruling party, and Britain’s anti-EU Brexiteers, have unnerved establishment organs such as the New York Times, Washington Post, Globe and Mail, and Britain’s Guardian, among others.
They have become very shrill in “defending” a “free press” -- as opposed to the what they consider the “fake news” of anti-establishment “samizdats.”
But what they really mean is that they adhere to what French philosopher Michel Foucault called a country’s “truth regime,” that is, the ideologically acceptable views of its ruling elites in a given zeitgeist.
In that sense, the Soviet flagship newspaper Pravda also was “free” – it could run debates within its pages about various policy differences within the nomenklatura, arguments about Marxist-Leninist theory, and so forth.
But it could not challenge the overarching hegemonic power of the ruling Communist circles. That remained off-limits.
The same holds true for “respectable” discourse in today’s western mass media, which must adhere to a liberal-to-socialist-left political line and its pop slogans. In other words, there are certain parameters which define what is appropriate in public discourse.
Just as Pravda was not able to publish what Communists would have considered “anti-socialist propaganda,” so today views not deemed “politically correct” are looked at with disfavour.
At best, they are deemed “provocative,” “controversial,” “problematic,” or “divisive,” alerting readers to be on the lookout to discount them should they appear in print.
Opinions not seen as worthy of serious consideration are often tagged with words such as “skeptics”, “deniers”, or “populists” (an elastic word that is applied to anyone the liberal media disparages). Such views are, to use religious language, heretical.
They have created a social space in which they lord their ideology over everybody else and become the arbiter of what we should believe. As a result, newsrooms are often out of touch with the communities they serve.
This is bad news for journalists, and bad news for journalism. Because as people continue down the path of growing mistrust of the mainstream media, they will start looking for alternatives.
It also allows people like Trump, himself accused of spreading falsehoods, to portray the media who constantly attack him as themselves purveyors of “fake news.”
In his 1945 article “The Freedom of the Press,” George Orwell noted that “At any given moment there is an orthodoxy, a body of ideas which it is assumed that all right-thinking people will accept without question.”