Many people are surprised by the fact that a newspaper in Kuwait prevented the publication of an article, especially when they found nothing in the article worth denying from their point of view, unaware that the prevention of publication of any article is at the discretion of the owners or editors of the newspaper whose motives are often not known by others.
John Swinton (1829-1901), the former chief editorial writer of the New York Times, the world’s most powerful and respected newspaper, was the guest of honor at a banquet given by the leaders of his craft. Someone who knew neither the press nor Swinton offered a toast to the independent press. Swinton outraged his colleagues by replying:
“There is no such thing, at this date of the world’s history, in America, as an independent press. You know it and I know it.
“There is not one of you who dare to write your honest opinions, and if you did, you know beforehand that it would never appear in print. I am paid weekly for keeping my honest opinion out of the paper I am connected with. Others among you are paid similar salaries for similar things, and any of you who would be so foolish as to write honest opinions would be out on the streets looking for another job. If I allowed my honest opinions to appear in one issue of my paper, before twenty-four hours my occupation would be gone.
“The business of the journalists is to destroy the truth, to lie outright, to pervert, to vilify, to fawn at the feet of mammon, and to sell his country and his race for his daily bread. You know it and I know it, and what folly is this toasting an independent press?
“We are the tools and vassals of rich men behind the scenes. We are the jumping jacks, they pull the strings and we dance. Our talents, our possibilities and our lives are all the property of other men.
There is no doubt that what Swinton said more than 120 years ago has some truth and some exaggeration in connection to what applies to the press to all media and other commercial or political projects. And this is the natural right.
But it is fair to admit that the press, despite all its denigration, was and remains the conscience of any free nation, and has, domestically and internationally, honorable positions that can only be respected and admired.
Hundreds of newspaper editors and owners around the world have paid with their lives for their attitudes and views, and Lebanon is a good example. I have also experienced similar experiences in which my life and my businesses have been put at risk. This is not the risk of being sentenced to imprisonment. My experience is nothing compared to the experiences of others who have paid dearly for sticking to their points of view and their insistence to tell the truth and express their views. Many writings have also contributed to the transformation of democratic and dictatorial regimes, and the overthrow of kings and presidents.
We go back and say that the indisputable fact which is difficult today, or impossible, is to say the writer’s opinion must be without ambiguity and total honesty, and the reasons for that are immaterial.
Every newspaper and state has its own circumstances, each subject has its own limits, and each individual has its own red lines which he must not cross. So in other words, there is no absolute freedom in almost anything in life.
We are all bound by orders and prohibitions, and therefore we hope that the government resubmits the audiovisual law of the National Assembly for amendment to make it more acceptable.
By Ahmad Al-Sarraf