Free Media Is Often the First to Go
November 10, 2007
Filed under International
As the old saying goes, "Information is power." So it is no surprise that the free media is often the first to go when dictatorial regimes - or even ostensibly "democratic" governments - find themselves in power struggles with the people they govern. Last month, we called on the U.S. and other democratic countries to speak out against Burma's shutting down of the Internet and other media in an attempt to quell the pro-democracy protests led by the country's Buddhist monks. Now this week - in a shocking dictatorial double-play - both Pakistan and Georgia declared emergency rule (effectively, martial law), suspending their constitutions and clamping down on independent media. Pakistan's President, General Pervez Musharraf, asserted his need to fight terrorists - but it seems clear that he's made a desperate move to retain power midst increased calls for his ouster, or at least the shedding of his military uniform. In recent months, lawyers have been the heroes of Pakistan, taking the lead in protesting Musharraf's longtime military rule, and the current state of emergency. The Washington Post reported that Musharraf "moved quickly to control the media, which he said was partly to blame for the current crisis. Authorities have blacked out TV networks and threatened broadcasters with jail time, but so far have spared the Internet and most newspapers. Most people in Pakistan, where illiteracy is rife, get their news from TV or radio." Unlike in Burma last month, that the Internet has been spared in Pakistan is, fortunately, enabling at least some people to communicate with each other and get information out about what is happening in their country. It was also reported that the pro-Western, formerly Soviet country of Georgia shut down private TV stations this week in a claimed attempt to combat Russia's efforts to undermine the fledging democracy. Even if Georgia's president is right about Moscow's intentions, Georgia will never be a "beacon of democracy" (as U.S. President George Bush has said) if it employs Stalinistic tactics to control its people. A free and independent media is the cornerstone of a free society. To Westerners, this truism is often taken for granted. But savvy rulers are all too conscious of it. It was Joseph Stalin who said, "Ideas are more dangerous than guns." What better way to control ideas than to control the media? As with Burma, democratic nations around the world must decry, in words and deeds, emergency rule and the suppression of independent media - such actions have no place in a free society.