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Musk and Freedom of the Press, Then and Now

Elon Musk, until recently the richest man in the world, and the new owner of Twitter, caused a storm of reactions in the past few days – at least in the media world, if not in the general public – because he suspended the accounts of journalists who criticize him. Among them were journalists from major media from around the country.

However, that didn’t seem to bother him at all.

His theory, it seems, is “I own Twitter, I do what I want.”

And in this regard, things are clear. He’s a boss. He pays the bills, he gives the orders.

This decision, however, raises questions related to the freedom of the press. That is, with the right – and the need – of the people to listen to the other side of an issue – and for the practice of criticism on the work done by public figures.

However, Musk is not an ‘original’. The man follows in the footsteps of previous press barons, such as William Randolph Hearst, on whom the great work Citizen Kane is based, and, in modern times, Rupert Murdoch. He just differs in the medium he uses and the size of the audience he reaches on an international scale.

This phenomenon, of the concentration of information in the hands of a few people, is not exclusively American. This “model” of businessmen or even governments controlling the media is international.

And this is due to a significant degree – if not a very significant degree – to the fact that the vast majority of media are going through a deep, lengthy financial crisis.

But even this is not exclusively a problem of our time. The situation now, however, is probably worse than at other times, as we are in a transitional age due to revolutionary technological changes in the way news is distributed.

This situation reminds me, again, of our great Alexandrian poet, Constantine Cavafy, whom I coincidentally referred to in my previous editorial (https://www.thenationalherald.com/constantine-cavafys-struggle-for-the-parthenon-marbles/ on the Parthenon Marbles), who in one of his texts – from the publishing house Fexis – with the symbolic title ‘Independence’, writes the following which really deserves to be read by journalists and non-journalists:

“In three of the last issues of Panathenaion (a magazine published in Athens, at that time) a lot was written about the non-reading of Greeks… but next to the many unpleasant and harmful things that the situation has… let me note – let us also have a consolation for our grief – and a good one: When the writer knows, one way or another, that only limited volumes of his published works will be bought… various shackles immediately fall from him and he acquires a great freedom in his creative work… However sincere and convinced he is, they will succeed – almost without realizing he wants it, almost without feeling it – moments will arrive when, knowing how the public thinks and what they like and what they buy, he will make some small sacrifices – he will call this piece something else, and cut that. And there is nothing more destructive to Art – just thinking about it gives me chills – than to call this piece something else and to cut that.”

Fortunately, the great Alexandrian is not alive today to see what is happening. Today it is not “called something else,” but it is often even a product of imagination, often also of deliberate misinformation. Fake news!


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