The Soviet Union and now Cuba illustrate that the individual, not the press, is the better guarantor of individual rights 3/6/08Posted by Steve Boriss in IndividualRights.
Technology has typically been no friend of the people in the historical struggles between oppressive regimes and those yearning to be free. For all of its inarguable benefits, the printing press tended to concentrate societal communications among an elite few who could then be identified and pressured by rulers. Broadcast in many ways was even worse, as governments in even supposedly “free” countries immediately seized control of the electromagnetic spectrum, and required broadcasters to come begging to them every few years to get their licenses renewed. That’s why political talk is so much hotter on relatively unregulated cable TV than on the networks.
But in recent decades, technology has suddenly become the great liberator. Scott Shane has traced the fall of the Soviet empire to the fax machines, copiers, videocams, and PC’s that helped the people organize. The NY Times reports that “A growing underground network of young people armed with computer memory sticks, digital cameras and clandestine Internet hookups” may be destabilizing the oppressive dictatorship in Cuba.
The heroics of these Soviet and Cuban people using these new, more personal technologies should serve as a reminder that “freedom of the press” in the First Amendment referred not to the special freedoms of an elite group we now call “the press,” but the right of each one of us as individuals to freely use a printing press. Actually, if you think about it, “the press” in the U.S. has traditionally been no friend of the people either, often treating the Soviet Union and Cuba as model nations, the free-speech-suppressing FCC as heroes, and the McCain-Feingold bill’s elimination of our pre-election free speech as a great leap forward. Elites of all stripes, be they from government or the press, can be expected to favor their selfish interests over ours. The rights of individuals are best protected by technologies for individuals.