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 at the
forefront of French revolutionary thought by examining the Declaration of rights,
which in 1789 stated that, "All men are equal by nature," and brought republican
concepts such as liberty, equality and fraternity into awareness.3
When one looks at the motives behind the great revolutions of our time,
a recurring theme seems to prevail in all of them. There is a part of human
nature which makes freedom almost as much of a necessity as food and water. When
people's freedom is somehow oppressed or taken away, discontent emerges. "As
soon as discontent is generalized a party is formed which often becomes strong
enough to struggle against the Government."4 The conditional nature of this
statement can be attributed to the fact that discontent among a minority of
people is not enough to cause a revolution. There are other factors which are
necessary for a