One of the big problems of our time is that despite what we are constantly told, we do not have a free and independent press. Even if they were free and independent from government interference, which I am pretty sure they are not, almost all of the major media outlets are owned by multinational corporations who consistently mislead the public by deception, omission or a combination of both.
On April 27, 1961, President John F Kennedy gave a speech at The President and the Press: Address before the American Newspaper Publishers Association on the importance of a free and independent press in enabling a free and independent society. Back then he was talking in response to the perceived threat of communism, but his message is as relevant today as it was then, only now the threat is from corporations and a wealthy elite seeking to expand and create wealth through control of the media.
Here is a transcription of the core of his speech:
Ladies and gentlemen, the very word secrecy is repugnant in a free and open society. We are as a people inherently and historically opposed to secret societies, to secret oaths, and to secret proceedings. We decided long ago that the dangers of excessive and unwarranted concealment of pertinent facts far outweighed the dangers which are cited to justify it. Even today, there is little value in opposing the threat of a closed society by imitating its arbitrary restrictions. Even today, there is little value in ensuring the survival of our nation if our traditions do not survive with it. There is very grave danger that an announced need for increased security will be seized upon by those anxious to expand its meaning to the very limits of official censorship and concealment.
That I do not intend to permit to the extent that it’s in my control. No official of my administration, whether his rank is high or low, civilian or military, should interpret my words here tonight as an excuse to censor the news, to stifle dissent, to cover up our mistakes or to withhold from the press and the public the facts they deserve to know, for we are opposed around the world by a monolithic and ruthless conspiracy that relies primarily on covert means for expanding its sphere of influence, on infiltration instead of invasion, on subversion instead of elections, on intimidation instead of free choice, on guerrillas by night instead of armies by day.
It is a system which has conscripted vast human and material resources into the building of a tightly knit, highly efficient machine that combines military, diplomatic, intelligence, economic, scientific, and political operations. Its preparations are concealed, not published. Its mistakes are buried not headlined. Its dissenters are silenced, not praised. No expenditure is questioned, no rumor is printed, no secret is revealed.
No president should fear public scrutiny of his program, for from that scrutiny comes understanding, and from that understanding comes support or opposition. Both are necessary. I am not asking your newspapers to support an administration, but I am asking your help in the tremendous task of informing and alerting the American people, for I have complete confidence in the response and dedication of our citizens whenever they are fully informed. I not only could not stifle controversy among your readers, I welcome it. This administration intends to be candid about its errors. As a wise man once said, “An error doesn’t become a mistake until you refuse to correct it.” We intend to accept full responsibility for our errors. We expect you to point them out when we miss them.
Without debate, without criticism, no administration and no country can succeed and no republic can survive. That is why the Athenian lawmaker Solon decreed it a crime for any citizen to shrink from controversy. That is why our press was protected by the First Amendment, the only business in America specifically protected by the Constitution, not primarily to amuse and entertain, not to emphasize the trivial and the sentimental, not to simply give the public what it wants, but to inform, to arouse, to reflect, to state our dangers and our opportunities, to indicate our crises and our choices, to lead, mold, educate, and sometimes even anger public opinion.
This means greater coverage and analysis of international news, for it is no longer far away and foreign but close at hand and local. It means greater attention to improved understanding of the news as well as improved transmission. It means, finally, that government at all levels must meet its obligation to provide you with the fullest possible information outside the narrowest limits of national security. So it is to the printing press, to the recorder of mans’ deeds, the keeper of his conscience, the courier of his news, that we look for strength and assistance, confident that with your help man will be what he was born to be: free and independent.