Friday, November 18, 2016

Thus, in the New World began the struggle for freedom of information

From Amusing Ourselves to Death by Neil Postman. Publick Occurrences was the first newspaper published in what became the USA. It came out September 25, 1690 in Boston published by Benjamin Harris. With all the voices calling for suppression of "fake news," this is a suitable reminder that freedom of the speech and freedom of the press have always had to struggle. Established powers always want to suppress diversity of thought which might threaten their interests.
Before he came to America, Harris had played a role in “exposing” a nonexistent conspiracy of Catholics to slaughter Protestants and burn London. His London newspaper, Domestick Intelligence, revealed the “Popish plot,” with the result that Catholics were harshly persecuted. Harris, no stranger to mendacity, indicated in his prospectus for Publick Occurrences that a newspaper was necessary to combat the spirit of lying which then prevailed in Boston and, I am told, still does. He concluded his prospectus with the following sentence: “It is supposed that none will dislike this Proposal but such as intend to be guilty of so villainous a crime.” Harris was right about who would dislike his proposal. The second issue of Publick Occurrences never appeared. The Governor and Council suppressed it, complaining that Harris had printed “reflections of a very high nature,” by which they meant that they had no intention of admitting any impediments to whatever villainy they wished to pursue. Thus, in the New World began the struggle for freedom of information which, in the Old, had begun a century before.

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