The Illusion of the Free Press

O.T. Paynter-Wells
4 min readNov 18, 2020
Photo by AbsolutVision on Unsplash

“Any dictator would admire the uniformity and obedience of the U.S. media.” — Noam Chomsky

Knowledge, and the attainment thereof, is the primary safeguard of individual liberty and the most effective buffer against tyranny. The MSM ( mainstream media) is the most prominent and influential dispenser of ‘knowledge’ in today’s society, it has a near total monopoly of the information the public receives granting it an unparalleled level of power and influence- in fact- power through influence. By carefully selecting what information it discloses, and the frequency and energy of the disclosures, it has the ability to dictate public opinion, avert the collective eye and enrage the collective heart. Problems do not necessarily arise however, simply because of the sheer scale of the media-machine, they emerge in the fact that it is corrupted by corporate interests, political hegemonies, and its’ position as a defender of the status quo.

Herein lies a definite and undeniable conflict of interest. Here in the west, the media is promoted and sustained by virtue of its’ being free, the ‘free-press’ meaning; ‘a body of book publishers, news media, etc., not controlled or restricted by government censorship in political or ideological matters’ (Collins Dictionary)-a sub-optimal definition as it neglects to acknowledge corporate censorship and endorsements. How can the superstructure that is the MSM (mainstream media) both be free from censorship, and thus disseminate unadulterated information, whilst being funded, owned and advised by the same agents it was intended to scrutinise?

A truly free press worthy of the title is an entity which conveys to its audience unbiased and unadulterated information with impunity and without hinderance from either the private or public sectors. A truly free press would have no space for lobbyists and never deviate from the principle of ‘ providing reliable, unbiased information for all’. The current paradigm is one where media outlets seek political favour from one party or another and, in return for this, they grant political parties immunity from any serious scrutiny and ruthlessly pursue their opposition. The act of taking any side (i.e. constructing a bias) immediately inhibits the media’s ability to deliver on, what should be, it’s first principle: ‘ providing reliable, unbiased information for all’, as the act of ‘side-taking’ renders one unable to analyse and convey a story from a neutral perspective. This is why the traditional media outlets, with their open alliances to varying poles of the political spectrum, and corporate investments which influence what to, and what not to, investigate and scrutinise, should be done away with. Their lack of neutrality limits the reliability of their stories and fuels partisan tendencies in the readers, something which only forces the already fractured civil fabric further from reunification.

Social Media and it’s effects on discourse:

Social media has revolutionised the way we engage in public discourse. It has become analogous to the forums of ancient Rome where citizens could go to engage publicly in politics and philosophy, it has become the primary political and philosophical interface of the individual with society. This affect, intentional or not, has brought with it an untold level of responsibility on behalf of the tech-giants who run these platforms. As lords of the realm of civil discourse, it is their rightful duty to ensure the safeguarding of freedom of speech, maintain neutrality and oppose censorship. All of which they fail disastrously to achieve.

In line with traditional media platforms, social media companies seem to come equipped with their own political biases ( usually skewing them to the far-left of the spectrum on most issues), this places them at odds with users who express views which do not coincide with their narrative- this event usually leads to the censoring, shadow banning or the out-right removal of the user from the platform thus removing their ability to meaningfully engage in socio-political discourse.

It is my belief, that the only way of inhibiting this is by appropriating the social media platforms- hitherto the property of tech-giants- into the public sector. As the preeminent mechanism for public engagement in political discourse , it should be regarded as a public asset and have protections and rights bestowed unto its users which would safeguard them from their arbitrary removal from the ‘public square’ .

‘I disapprove of what you say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it,’- Evelyn Beatrice Hall

Although the preeminent issues confronting freedom of speech today are top-down (i.e. government censorship, user banning), there is an unfortunate and bourgeoning ‘grass-roots’ proclivity to:

a) embrace and propagate partisan ideologies.


b) vilify, ostracise and silence those who hold opposing views

Such an incendiary cultural tendency is not conducive to states of social cohesion nor does it provide an environment where discourse can occur optimally. When conducting ourselves online, we should endeavour to uphold the principle of freedom of speech and not limit people’s ability to express opinions which are contrary to our own .