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2009 September 21 Monday
Free Press Leads To More Oppression In Autocratic Societies

Lesson here for dictators the world over. If you let your people hear criticism you'll just have to throw them in jail. To avoid unnecessary and avoidable suffering keep them in the dark.

While many have argued that media freedom is integral to a functioning democracy and respect for human rights, a new study is the first to examine the effects of media freedom in countries that lack such democratic institutions as fair elections.

"We would expect to find most free media in democratic states and most controlled media in autocratic states, but this is not always the case," said Jenifer Whitten-Woodring, a doctoral candidate in political science and international relations at USC.

In the September 2009 issue of International Studies Quarterly, Whitten-Woodring shows that media freedom in autocratic states does not necessarily result in improved government treatment of citizens. Indeed, media freedom in the absence of other institutional outlets for dissent is actually associated with greater oppression of human rights, Whitten-Woodring found utilizing data from 93 countries for the years 1981-1995.

If people start complaining out loud and read the complaints of others it probably just increases feelings of dissatisfaction, frustration, and anger. This leads people to do things that any self-respecting dictator can't let them get away with. Before you know it the prisons are full of political opponents and you are spending a lot more money on interrogators and torturers.

Free media reporters think they are so righteous attacking The Man. But all they are doing is feeding vicious cycles of protest, police shooting protesters, and general repression.

Without democratic outlets for dissent, institutional cycles of protest and repression are likely to evolve, according to Whitten-Woodring, leading to the greater possibility of political imprisonment, murder, disappearance and torture in the short term. For example in Iran in the late 1990s, when President Khatami introduced some press freedom and newspapers began to report on violations of human rights, protests and calls for reform were met with further repression.

"I'm not advocating against free media," Whitten-Woodring said, pointing to instances in Mexico and Uganda where an independent media continued to operate despite state oppression and intimidation. "It is imperative to understand how the effects of independent media vary and are dependent on democratic characteristics . . . that make governments more accountable and vulnerable to public opinion."

She continued: "All in all, these findings suggest that although the free media is able to play a watchdog role over government behavior, this does not always result in improved government treatment of citizens."

Is improved government treatment of citizens the bottom line?

Maybe what is needed is a small amount of carefully controlled complaining.

By Randall Parker    2009 September 21 09:13 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (1)
2008 August 30 Saturday
Obama Tries To Silence Critics

Barack Obama's campaign lawyer is trying to prevent the use of free speech and freedom of the press.

``Barack Obama is friends with Ayers, defending him as, quote, 'Respectable' and 'Mainstream,''' the group's ad states. ``Obama's political career was launched in Ayers' home. And the two served together on a left-wing board. Why would Barack Obama be friends with someone who bombed the Capitol and is proud of it? Do you know enough to elect Barack Obama?''

In a letter to station managers, Obama campaign lawyer Robert Bauer wrote: ``Your station is committed to operating in the public interest, an objective that cannot be satisfied by accepting for compensation material of such malicious falsity.''

Bauer also wrote to Deputy Assistant Attorney General John C. Keeney, noting that the ad is a ``knowing and willful attempt to evade the strictures of federal election law.''

A group opposed to Obama is publicizing the friendship between Obama and former 60s Weathermen (later Weather Underground once they became feminist) radical Bill Ayers. Whether or not one believes the more critical interpretations of that relationship is really besides the point. I do not think that US Presidential campaigns should use legal means to try to silence critics.

I am not writing this to puff up John McCain. His own record of trying to regulate political speech through campaign finance laws is pretty bad. But Obama isn't exactly coming across here as a great civil libertarian.

Update: If you are curious about the Ayers-Obama relationship see Stanley Kurtz for the details.

Although the press has been notably lax about pursuing the matter, the full story of the Obama-Ayers relationship calls the truth of Obama’s account seriously into question. When Obama made his first run for political office, articles in both the Chicago Defender and the Hyde Park Herald featured among his qualifications his position as chairman of the board of the Chicago Annenberg Challenge, a foundation where Ayers was a founder and guiding force. Obama assumed the Annenberg board chairmanship only months before his first run for office, and almost certainly received the job at the behest of Bill Ayers. During Obama’s time as Annenberg board chairman, Ayers’s own education projects received substantial funding. Indeed, during its first year, the Chicago Annenberg Challenge struggled with significant concerns about possible conflicts of interest. With a writ to aid Chicago’s public schools, the Annenberg challenge played a deeply political role in Chicago’s education wars, and as Annenberg board chairman, Obama clearly aligned himself with Ayers’s radical views on education issues. With Obama heading up the board and Ayers heading up the other key operating body of the Annenberg Challenge, the two would necessarily have had a close working relationship for years (therefore “exchanging ideas on a regular basis”). So when Ayers and Dorhn hosted that kickoff for the first Obama campaign, it was not a random happenstance, but merely further evidence of a close and ongoing political partnership. Of course, all of this clearly contradicts Obama’s dismissal of the significance of his relationship with Ayers.

When Kurtz appeared on a Chicago radio station to discuss Ayers the Obama campaign organized an attempt to silence Kurtz.

Stanley Kurtz's appearance on the Milt Rosenberg radio program in Chicago last night provided an unsettling look into the authoritarian tactics being employed by the Obama campaign to stifle and intimidate its critics.

I happened to be in the WGN studios for the entire affair because my friend, Zack Christenson, produces the show in question. He was aware of my previous reporting on the Obama-Ayers connection and kindly invited me to sit in on the two-hour interview. (For full disclosure, I work for two other radio stations in Chicago, WIND, and WYLL).

As I arrived at the downtown Chicago studios a few hours before show time, the phones began ringing off the hook with irate callers demanding Kurtz be axed from the program. It didn't take long to discover that the Obama campaign—which had declined invitations to join the show for its duration to offer rebuttals to Kurtz's points—had sent an "Obama Action Wire" e-mail to its supporters, encouraging them to deluge the station with complaints.

Do you like free speech? Do you like freedom of the press? This sort of tactic shows a distinct lack of respect for free speech and freedom of the press.

By Randall Parker    2008 August 30 01:17 PM Entry Permalink | Comments (0)
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