The great revolutionary idea at the time of our nation’s independence rubs against the grain of politics and “statecraft,” as practiced by khans, kaisers, and kleptocrats: divide and conquer, divide and rule. It is no wonder that the art of making legal distinctions is so often based not on human rights but governmental convenience.
Take the right of a free press.
The notion of open government has it that the right to participate in the dissemination of knowledge (particularly information about government) is to be an individual right. Modern Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) laws are a great example of government accommodation of this right.
But the Michigan House is now attempting to restrict access to state information by trying to set up a definition of journalist, making it easier for journalists to finagle data from government, harder for lone individuals. The state’s House Judiciary Committee just approved HB 4770, which does a number of things, including setting very particular definitions of terms like “newspaper” and “journalist.”
All the better to make the practice of publishing information about government more of a privilege than a right.
This was made even clearer at the federal level, by Senator Diane Feinstein, whose support for a new “shield law” to protect journalists is best understood by its limitations: bloggers, you don’t count. And she actually referred to a “special privilege” to publish. Not a right guaranteed by the Constitution.
Politicians like it when they have credentialed, easy-to-identify (and easier-to-manipulate) professional journalists to contend with.
Citizens with those rights? Why, it drives them crazy.
Crazy enough to try to codify what a “journalist” is, anyway.
This is Common Sense. I’m Paul Jacob.