Free press, the importance of being allowed to express oneself

By Emma Brooks

The latest Italian fiasco (unfortunately with Berlusconi there seem to be quite a lot of those going on) about the freedom of the Italian press, has reminded me exactly how important freedom of expression is in today’s societies. Of course, there are always ongoing debates about what is “politically correct” and what is not, about what should or shouldn’t be said/known/talked about, but with the expansion of the world of communications, it’s crucial that all people, and particularly the press, should be free to express themselves.

The Italians are worried by Berlusconi’s decision to sue newspapers for having divulged information about his private life with various “young ladies”. Not only that, but also the fact that he owns 3 out of 7 Italian free to air channels, and has quite a large amount of influence over the state television channel RAI, have made the Italians feel that they are truly losing the freedom of the press that should be allowed them.

But it’s not the first time that in a European country (supposedly leaders of democracy), we have witnessed too much state control over the press. Not so long ago in France, Nicolas Sarkozy wanted to banish all publicity from TV, only to make the CEO of France television appointed by the president himself, and increase state funding of TV. The increase of state funds behind all television would of course imply a greater control by the government, therefore leaving little room for open-minded programs (or so one could imagine it to be). Not so different from Berlusconi’s current situation either…

In fact, I’m sure that in every country at some point or another, people have felt that their TV programs, or their newspaper (though generally these tend to stick to one side or another), or their local radio was suddenly sounding a little too in favour of the current government. But the important thing is know whether or not it is a serious change, that should call for alarm, or simply a passing moment. Satiric newspapers and shows have always been a pillar of society, and politicians should be used to reading not always pleasant articles about themselves. Being able to read them with humour and take them within their stride, should be the mark of a good politician, and at best should get them thinking about what they are doing wrong. And I am sure that we have all, at one point or another, got a good kick out of shows like France’s “Les guignols de l’info”, or “Private eye”, or even political cartoons, which are sometimes quite poignant. What would we do without this satire, that not only helps to makes us laugh about some of the situations we find ourselves in, but also helps to keep a healthy balance between political propaganda and reality?

Berlusconi, as well as other political figures must realize that in order to keep their citizens happy and not awaken suspicions about their behaviour, they must allow for freedom of the press and for people to make up their own, uncensored opinion about them. After all, isn’t that what democracy is supposed to be about? If we don’t like you, you’re out!

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