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Wednesday, March 28, 2007

Political Spin Doctors are the Greatest threat to Democracy

(Extracts from my article!)

On Alastair Campbell’s resignation August 2003 the Mirror described the Labour Spin doctor and the brain behind their success, as ‘The Most Powerful Man in Britain’. The Sun acknowledged Campbell as ‘The King of Spin’.

In Europe, the long and drawn-out fight for ‘liberty of the press’ appeared first and most vigorously in Britain. Although the government still did control the media, but this friction did continue and still prevalent to this day, however in a much more clever way. Britain was the birthplace of the ‘freedom of the press’. John Stuart Mill’s ‘On Liberty’ complained that the utilitarian theory of the press freedom is symptomatic of an age which is ‘destitute of faith but terrified’ at scepticism. Utilitarianism reinforces the assumption that people are entitled to feel sure, not that their opinions are true, but that they could not live without them, and that these opinions have a self-evident utility. He offered three reasons why the guarantee of freely circulating opinion through the press is essential.

First, any opinion which is silenced by government or civil society because it is allegedly false may prove to be true, in the sense that it may conform to the facts and survive vigorous counter-arguments about those facts. Those who seek to censor potentially true opinion naturally deny its truth. But in so doing they make the unwarranted assumption that their certainty is equivalent to absolute certainty. To assume infallibility is to suppress potential truth. It is to decide the truth of an opinion for others, without allowing them to hear or digest counter-arguments.

Second, though an opinion turns out to be false, it often contains an ounce or two of truth. The prevailing opinion on any matter is rarely the whole truth. This means that it is only by confronting it with other, contrary opinions that the full truth can be attained. In public affairs, truth necessitates combining and reconciling opposites.

Mill argued, finally that even if an opinion is the whole truth, and nothing but the truth, it will soon degenerate into prejudice – into a ‘dead dogma, not a living truth’ – if it goes unchallenged. The fatal tendency of mankind to leave off thinking about a thing when it is no longer doubtful, is the cause of half their error. It is certain that many present opinions will be rejected by future ages, as it is that many, once general, are rejected by the present. Truth can also degenerate into prejudice if it is not exercised by counter-claims.

Mill doubted the comfortable dictum that in the end truth always wins out against persecution. History teems with examples of suppressed truth. Truth has no inherent power to prevail against the dungeon, the stake or the arrogant censor. Truth requires liberty of the press as its ally. No special laws or spin doctors should exist to hamper the freedom of newspapers, journals, books and pamphlets to print facts and advance opinions. Only a free press with no pressure can guarantee that there is an abundant supply of facts and arguments about the facts, thus cultivating the habit of questioning and correcting opinions and ensuring the victory of Truth over falsehood.

These trends in Western democracies are worrying. They indicate the growing quantity of political power which is normally unaccountable either to citizens or to the mass media, or not subject to the rule of law. Citizens are not aware if the state officials have for example been influenced by private interested parties. During the 1980s, the Thatcher governments sought to protect official secrecy and to path up a culture of prudent silence and mumbo-jumbo within public institutions by charging outspoken civil servants. Public opinion was manipulated through lies and misinformation, and sections of the press were encouraged to connive with the government’s own distortions. The government made a failed attempt to suppress Spycatchers, the memoirs of the former MI5 officer Peter Wright. There was a overt censorship of radio plays, news and documentaries on BBC and ITV: the Foreign Secretary sought to prevent a documentary exploring the SAS shooting of IRA members in Gibraltar in 1988.

‘A state is bound to be more dangerous if it is not governed openly by the people, but secretly by political forces that are not widely known or understood’
Andrei Sakharov, 1987

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