WILSON’S LOCAL PRINT AND DIGITAL COMMUNITY INSTITUTION SINCE 1896

Economic freedom, press freedom go hand in hand

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Freedom of the press and the freedom to operate in a free and open market is critical to maintaining the ideals of liberty and democracy.

Those points are unassailable.

Going further, snarky, mean-spirited and even physically threatening attacks on credible journalists must stop. Curbing or regulating the Fourth Estate unsettles an indispensable pillar, the failure of which would send our ideals and way of life crashing down upon us.

A stark essay this week by Kevin Brookes and Patrick Déry, who are public policy analysts at the Montreal Economic Institute, reinforces these principles, starting with a terrible statistic. 

Sixty-five journalists were killed 2017, according to a report from Reporters Without Borders. This includes 10 women, double the number from 2016.

That’s not fake news.

“Twenty-six were killed in the course of their work, the collateral victims of a deadly situation such as an air strike, an artillery bombardment, or a suicide bombing,” the report said. “The other 39 were murdered, and deliberately targeted because their reporting threatened political, economic, or criminal interests. … The aim in each case was to silence them.”

Expanding economic freedom is one step toward making the world a safer place for journalists, they write. “In modern times, there has never been a democratic society that respects individual rights without at least a minimum of economic freedom.”

In a real market economy, the MEI authors say, “an avid defender of socialism will always have the possibility of finding donors, investors and readers to finance the dissemination of his opinions. But in an economy controlled by the government, diverging opinions will have greater difficulty being heard because of bureaucratic obstacles, the difficulty of finding financing and even outright censorship. A good way to silence a media outlet is to tax or regulate it.”

The freer a country is economically, they say, the greater the chance that the press will be free. Countries with scant economic freedom generally don’t have a free press. Consider Venezuela, Bolivia, Argentina or Algeria.

North Korea.

“By increasingly controlling and regulating their economies over the past decade and a half, the governments of these countries have substantially wounded the media.”

The authors point out that economically free countries such as Singapore sometimes, conversely, have a low level of press freedom.

“But the data show that a minimum level of economic freedom is a necessary precondition to ensuring a minimum level of press freedom: For 2015, the last year for which data is available, no country with a free press is in the bottom quartile of economic freedom. In countries with a high degree of economic freedom, fewer journalists are attacked, fewer laws and regulations are imposed on the media, and there is less political pressure to control content. Economic freedom is simply good for journalists.”

John Trump is managing editor of the Carolina Journal, a monthly legislative and political newspaper published by the John Locke Foundation.

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