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Issue #1755      November 2, 2016

Culture & Life

The free press – hurrah!

The publicists employed by capitalism are fond of trumpeting the virtues of a “free press” which capitalist countries supposedly enjoy. Journalists employed by capitalist media, however, know that their much vaunted freedom depends on the goodwill of media proprietors, the political tolerance of advertisers (who control the purse strings) and just what the capitalist state will let them get away with.

Protesting Native American activists have been attacked by the police as well as private “security” thugs hired by the oil industry.

The capitalist country that makes the biggest song and dance about having a “free press” is, predictably, the USA. Yes, I know it’s ludicrous, but they have been brainwashed on this for so long that they actually accept the idea that privately-owned media are somehow “free” whereas publicly-owned media are not!

Ironically, in the US context, PBS, the Public Broadcasting Service, is in fact used as a mouthpiece by the US government, especially the State Department, not directly of course but by way of planted stories, especially when covering foreign policy stories.

The USA’s carefully nurtured image as the home of the free press took a bit of a battering recently when authorities in North Dakota heavy-handedly tried to stop the media from reporting the struggle being waged by the Sioux nation against attempts by a private company to build an oil pipeline across tribal Sioux land against the wishes of the Native Americans who call that area home.

Native American activists protesting the construction of what is euphemistically called “the North Dakota Access pipeline” have been attacked by the police as well as private “security” thugs hired by the oil industry. In the best traditions of America’s shameful treatment of its Indigenous population, the North Dakota state’s attorney has moved to stop the media even being able to report this struggle.

In a vindication for press freedom and land protectors fighting against the Dakota Access Pipeline, North Dakota has dismissed the “riot” charges against Amy Goodman.

In September, when journalist Amy Goodman from Democracy Now! reported on pipeline company security guards physically assaulting a non-violent protest that was attempting to protect tribal lands she was arrested and – incredibly – charged with “riot”. Subsequently, filmmaker Deia Schlosberg was arrested for documenting a protest in solidarity with the opponents of the pipeline project. Once again, this is not a minor matter: North Dakota authorities have charged Deia with offences that – if she were convicted – would see her facing up to 45 years in prison!

Delphine Halgand, US director for Reporters Without Borders (RSF), said, after the charges against Goodman were dismissed by the court: “We are relieved that the charges against Amy Goodman have been dismissed, but they never should have been filed in the first place.” Goodman herself said “This is a complete vindication of my right as a journalist to cover the attack on the protesters, and of the public’s right to know what is happening with the Dakota Access pipeline.

“We will continue to report on this epic struggle of Native Americans and their non-Native allies taking on the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarised police in this time when climate change threatens the planet.”

The struggle to stop big oil riding roughshod over the people of North Dakota has struck a chord with many people in the US, aware that the actions of the fossil fuel industry and their tame politicians are in fact an attack on democracy itself (this newspaper has ran several reports on the struggle).

A press advocacy group with the possibly ironic name Free Press delivered almost 25,000 petitions to the office of the state’s attorney demanding that authorities drop all charges against Goodman and anyone else covering the protests against the Dakota Access Pipeline project.

And another group, Food and Water Watch, has called on the US Department of Justice to investigate the arrests of the journalists. “Cracking down on Goodman, Schlosberg, and other journalists,” according to the organisation’s executive director, Wenonah Hauter, “constitutes nothing less than a war on journalism and a victory for fossil fuel interests that have banked on the pipeline”.

Amy Goodman identified two of the sides in that war as “Native Americans and their non-Native allies” on one side and “the fossil fuel industry and an increasingly militarised police” on the other. In fact, of course, these are merely skirmishes in the much larger on-going war between the workers and the corporations.

She is right about one thing however: as part of that class war, the US police force is being steadily militarised. Once a civil force whose prime function was to prevent crime, the heavily-armed US police have metamorphosed into what has been accurately described as an army of occupation. They even have heavy weapons!

That, of course, is no more than one would expect. Whenever the people begin to fight back against capitalism’s attempts at exploitation, the ruling class steps up its repression and the use of force. All the powers of the state are part of its arsenal, including of course the police and the courts.

For all its fine talk lauding “the rule of law”, capitalism actually enacts most laws for the sole purpose of protecting property and the ownership of property. The courts are therefore a potent weapon in the hands of a ruling class determined to crush any signs of rebellion by the workers and other exploited folk.

When the workers win political power, one of the earliest and most important tasks they must undertake is to pass new laws favouring the working people. What can happen to progressive governments when the law still favours the boss class was amply illustrated by the bloodless coup that removed the Whitlam Labor government in Australia after the customary period of destabilisation to convince people that the government was incapable of functioning.

A similar coup using crafty legal manoeuvring was carried out recently against the progressive governments of Brazil and Venezuela. Without an election, the left-wing government in Brazil has been replaced by a right-wing “caretaker” government which is not only an eager tool of Washington but is possibly the most corrupt regime in all of South America.

And a pious US government dares to talk about human rights and respecting the rule of law! Ha!

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