The Importance of the Press

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The Importance of the Press

The newspaper is a powerful medium. It is powerful because it has the ability to influence the way that people view the world, as well as their opinion of what they see. In peaceful times (or in times of oppression, for sometimes they can appear to be happening at the same moment) the press is usually one of the instruments used by the state in order to maintain the status quo. However, during times of political unrest it is often the press who becomes the major antagonist in the fight against the government.

Why is this so? Why does the press get so deeply involved in, not just the reporting of, but the instigating and propagating of political change? In order to properly answer this question there are several other key ideas and questions which must first be examined. To understand the nature of the press' involvement in political change, one must initially understand the nature of political change in its own right. In this vein, the first section of the paper is dedicated to this investigation. An examination of the motives behind revolution will be given in order to provide a framework for the second part of the paper, which will look at the involvement of the press during revolutionary times in more specific terms. The French revolution of 1789 will be used as a backdrop for this inquiry.

There are many different types of political movements, and accordingly there are many different reasons for these movements to occur. Value-oriented and norm-oriented movements deal with matters of social and political concern, but do so in the setting of the already existing political and social structures. Revolutionary movements seek to make fundamental changes to society in order to establish a completely new political and social order.1 The distinction being that the first aims to make subtle changes to society from within, while the latter's aim is to make drastic changes to society by getting rid of the principles that society was based on.

Usually this will involve a change in political beliefs and values, or political ideology. In today's world there are numerous forms of political ideologies, but in essence they are all derived from two basic root ideologies; socialism and liberalism. Socialism is an ideology which places power in the hands of the state, rather than in the people who populate it. Examples of modern socialist states include: the former Soviet Union, China, and Cuba. Other more extreme forms of socialism are fascism and authoritarianism. These ideologies more closely resemble the monarchies that ruled much of Europe and the new world, before the great revolutions. Monarchism is an ideology that believes in the absolute rule of a "royal" family. The king and/or queen have the power to make decisions without question from anyone. The series of revolutions which included the English Reformation, the American and French Revolutions, and to a lesser extent the revolts in Upper and Lower Canada, were all confrontations over who should hold political ascendancy. Moreover, they were clashes of ideology, between monarchism and liberalism.

Liberalism was developed during the Enlightenment. This was a period of time when writers, scientists, and philosophers began to openly question certain aspects of society and the role that they should or should not play. Attacked were the kings and queens, the clergy and feudalist system as a whole. The ideas of this time formed the basis of revolutionary thought. The goal of the revolutionaries was to build a new society based on liberal values of the Enlightenment. "Liberal politicians in Europe wanted to establish a framework of legal equality, religious toleration and freedom of the press."2 It was the deprivation of these principles, by the monarchical leaders, which led to discontent among the people of France. Above all, liberalism stresses the primacy of individual rights. One can see that these ideals were...
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