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Friday 29 July 2011

Freedom of the Press & The Internet

I love the internet! It seems to me to be the greatest innovation since the discovery of fire or the invention of the wheel! The way in which people can communicate with friends across the world at any hour of the day or night, is brilliant. The way in which people who wouldn’t otherwise have ever met can come together is amazing. The way in which information is available at the press of a key is so rewarding. The way in which it is possible to learn and discover things that you might never have thought of is amazing; and, above all, the possibilities for sharing ideas and learning to see through the eyes of people who might live thousands of miles away is awe-inspiring. Once, while working on a book, I needed to know whether a particular car of a particular era would start by a key in the ignition or by winding a crank in the engine. Knowing nothing about engines I searched for an antique car forum, posed my question and within half an hour had 5 detailed replies from experts! How brilliant is that?

There are people who speak of the dangers of the internet because some social websites give rise to people – especially children – placing themselves at the mercy of predators. This is undoubtedly true but there have always been wicked people who use whatever methods are available to abuse others, and I think that, in time, children will become as aware of the dangers as children in the past were aware of the dangers of getting into strangers’ cars or taking sweets from strange men. Another – slightly amusing to me – ‘danger’ is what happens when you purchase a website and let it lapse. There is a website in my name which is now filled with ‘steamy sex secrets’ which have nothing to do with me, though it is still registered in my name and, since I once had cards printed with that website address and handed them out to many people in places where I give talks about the Victorians, it might be a bit weird if anyone goes to that site! That causes me a lot of amusement and, no matter what, I hope with all my heart that there will never be any form of internet censorship because that would be far worse than the so called dangers of the present freedom of expression.

The recent newspaper scandals of News International demonstrate the dangers of monopolies and what happens when free-speech or the ‘freedom of the press’ falls into the hands of a few magnates. This isn’t a new phenomenon. In 1914, a German newspaper published a totally false story of Germany’s war preparations and military mobilisation. Only two years previously, the British Prime Minister, Asquith, had warned the Kaiser of the danger of German newspapers being dominated by a small group of people with their own agenda. That article, I am sure, was a deliberate attempt to raise fear across Europe and provoke war.

The exchange of ideas available on the internet overrides the news that is fed to people by the standard papers and TV broadcasts – which are often indirectly under government control - and allows people to look beneath the surface of what we are being told. From such a position, people are able to form our own opinions without relying on some magnate’s slant on what is happening in the world.

And, speaking of the internet, please visit our new blog, which has just been set up:
Lost in the myths of history
and also, if you feel inclined, a new website (which won’t be sold on!)
Hilliard & Croft


May said...

I'm excited about the new blog! Let's hope it 'takes off'!

Christina said...

I think it might take a little time to get going but once it does, I am sure it will take off :-)