Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century
Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century

Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century

Feb 19, 2010

Now that U.S. news outlets can instantaneously disseminate information across the world and foreign media have immediate access to the American market, what does press freedom really mean?


JOANNE MYERS: Good morning. I'm Joanne Myers, Director of Public Affairs Programs, and on behalf of the Carnegie Council I'd like to thank you for joining us on this beautiful winter morning.

It is indeed a privilege to welcome Lee Bollinger, the visionary president of Columbia University, to our Breakfast Program. Mr. Bollinger will be discussing his latest book, entitled Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open: A Free Press for a New Century.

He will be speaking to us not only in his capacity as the quintessential president of a university that is widely known for its stance on freedom of speech and expression of ideas, but he is also here as one of our nation's foremost experts on First Amendment issues. A careful reading of his bio, which you all should have, will illuminate this for you.

As Mr. Bollinger discusses why a free press is a paramount concern in our globalized world, you will immediately be aware that you are in the company of an erudite constitutional law scholar who is passionate about this topic.

When the Founding Fathers established a new world order, they were intent on laying the foundation for a country that would embody principles of democracy and openness. As they left behind a tyrannical government that controlled the flow of information, they understood only too well that a democracy required its citizens to be informed. This would depend on receiving honest, reliable news about events affecting their new country and their new lives. Accordingly, the notion that the press should serve as the guardian of democracy by objectively reporting the news became an accepted norm, and one incorporated in the Bill of Rights.

While freedom of speech as expressed in the First Amendment has been guaranteed to us for some time, freedom of the press is an evolving concept that is largely a creation of the past 80 years. It is a doctrine that has been informed by the perceptions of those who crafted the Press Clause and by the views of Supreme Court Justices who have interpreted the Clause over the past two centuries, responding to an expanding world of daily newspapers, books, magazines, motion pictures, radio and television broadcasts, and now websites and internet postings. In fact, as Mr. Bollinger explains in Uninhibited, Robust, and Wide-Open, it took nearly 150 years after the adoption of the Bill of Rights and the First Amendment for the Court to issue its first decision based squarely on the freedom of the press and articulated in a way that protects that freedom now.

Yet, today the press is still facing many uncertainties, whether financial or being upstaged by new technology, both at home and abroad. Although we may come from different continents and cultures, as well as different political systems, when dealing with the media and promoting democracy we are all faced with very similar problems. The challenge is to find a way to have more free flow of information and ideas by which we can develop institutions and policies to make the world a better place.

Still, when there are so many countries that censor the press and limit access to newsworthy information, the question becomes how to create a global public forum suitable for an increasingly interconnected, pluralistic world that is necessary for our future. For the answer, please join me in welcoming our very distinguished guest, a man who, through wind, snow, and sleet, will never be deterred.

Lee Bollinger, thank you for coming.


LEE BOLLINGER: Thank you very, very much, Joanne, and thank you all for coming out for this. Nothing warms a scholar's heart more than people who are prepared to listen on a morning with a lot of snow. There are friends and colleagues here in this room, and I'm delighted to be with you.

This subject is something that I have in one sense been thinking about for 30 to 40 years. Indeed, I grew up in a family of people who worked in newspapers. My father for a while owned a newspaper, and I worked there as a menial servant of my father, developing films, and I was the janitor for a while.

So I feel a part both of the world of the press, in the sense of being close to people who worked in it and the institution, and I feel close to it as a scholar of the First Amendment, which is something that I moved into shortly after I became an assistant professor at age 27 and wondered what it is I would write about, and concluded that the only thing I knew much about was being a journalist. So I have been thinking about it since then.

Only recently, really in the past couple of years, after I had become president of Columbia in 2002, and realized that the world was moving very, very rapidly, largely as a result of opening the free markets and liberalization of societies around the world—not by any means entirely, but the free-market phenomenon was very striking, and that was creating a level of integration of the world economy that was much more profound and, as I said, rapid, than our knowledge about what it is that was really happening and should happen.

So I, seeing this as president of Columbia, thinking about how we had to think as an institution and how higher education in the United States had to think about catching up with this changing world, then sat down to do an overview of the First Amendment for a series, of which this book is a part, that Oxford has put together on constitutional rights.

It was in the course of thinking about that and writing about that that I realized the First Amendment and our public policy and the world generally was going to have to come to terms with the issues of a free press for a global world, a more global world—we're always global; it has been episodic and so on—but I think today, by almost any standard, if this course continues—and that's something worth discussing and debating—I think the benefits of this are enormous. But if we're going to keep moving in this direction, we had better come up with the civil institutions to cope with it and help it and channel it and critique it, and that includes a free press. So that led me then to think about my field, both constitutional law and public policy and journalism, and this new world.

There are three parts to the argument:

    • Part 1 is to understand the story of freedom of the press and the creation of a free and independent press in this country in the last century.

    • Part 2 is to understand where we are at the moment, along the lines that I was just suggesting.

  • Part 3 is: What do we do about it? If we believe in a free press, if we believe in what has been achieved in the United States, how do we begin to think about projecting that more onto the world stage? I've put it in terms of there is now a global public forum emerging—how do we establish a general principle of freedom of the press and a reality of freedom of the press for that world?

Let me start with the story of the First Amendment. As Joanne said, it really is a story of this past century, and I would say it's largely a story of the last half of the last century. Every fall I teach an undergraduate course on freedom of speech and press, and I teach it just as I would a law school class. I do it with undergraduates. So we begin with the cases.

The first Supreme Court case is in 1919. There's no Supreme Court case on freedom of speech and press before that. And, as I write here and I've written elsewhere, it's not an auspicious beginning. It's really a striking example of our history in this country of not being as devoted to openness of free speech and free press as we like to think of ourselves, and certainly as we are today, because one of the three cases that came before the Supreme Court in 1919 involved a person who gave a speech in Ohio during World War I and in that speech praised people who had resisted the draft. For that he was arrested and prosecuted and convicted of violating the Espionage Act of 1917 for interfering with the draft.

The case went all the way to the Supreme Court. A written unanimous decision by Oliver Wendell Holmes upheld the conviction of this person, and he spent several years in jail. Who was this person? It was Eugene Debs, a candidate for president of the United States from the Socialist Party, who while in jail in 1920 received over a million votes for president of the United States.

Now, we don't think of ourselves as a society that convicts presidential candidates for making speeches praising people who violate the law. But that's the way it starts. It's not a great beginning.

But then it picks up and Oliver Wendell Holmes seems to change position. It's a fascinating story, but that's not my story of today. By the 1930s, we have a very strong free speech tradition, free press tradition.

By the 1950s, it's down again, as the McCarthy period leads to the widespread denials of free speech and free press as we know it, among other violations of civil rights.

And then come the 1960s, in particular New York Times v. Sullivan, and that is the beginning of the reshaping of American principles of freedom of the press and speech. New York Times v. Sullivan is known for what it did to libel law. It basically said that a public official cannot sue for damages the press or citizens for saying false things about them unless the public official can show that it was made with actual malice—that is, the person or the press knew that it was false or acted in reckless regard of its falsity. That established a very significant point of constitutional law.

But it did more than that. The case did more than that. What it did was really to say "We are a society where the press, in particular, and citizens play a very, very important sovereign role in our society."

It went on in other cases to define the role of the press as a structural role in our system, a fourth branch of government—not just an ordinary business that happens to produce information; it has a public trust. It also said that this is rooted in our decision to be a democracy, a self-governing society. It also said that we would take free speech and free press to an extreme degree.

That was followed through by other decisions—Pentagon Papers, for example. In the 1970s, The New York Times and The Washington Post receive classified documents, known as the Pentagon Papers, and those are taken illegally from the government and handed over to The Washington Post and The New York Times, who very kindly called the Attorney General and said, "We're about to publish these, thought you'd like to know." That resulted in a suit for an injunction against publication. The Supreme Court held that the press has a right under the First Amendment against prior restraints to publish classified documents that had been illegally purloined from the government. That's what the free speech tradition means.

And then, there are lots of other decisions that reinforce this sense that we are protecting speech and press to an extreme degree.

The final thing that New York Times v. Sullivan represented was that we were a society that was moving into a national society that needed what I call a national public forum. Before that, we could have local jurisdictions in states and they could have their own rules, in this case about libel, and that was all fine. But as the society became more economically integrated, as the issues became more national in the way we felt about them, segregation could no longer be something that was a matter for Alabama to decide; it was a matter for the country to decide. We could not under these circumstances afford to allow an individual jurisdiction, in this case Alabama, to have rules that would limit speech that would then restrict or chill the speech that we needed on a national basis.

Only a few hundred copies of The New York Times made it into Alabama at that time. The problem arose from an advertisement about the civil rights movement. But that became if Alabama could have a judgment against The New York Times, that would chill The New York Times from what it would publish generally, and we couldn't afford to allow that. We needed a national principle.

So all this evolved. There are various components of it. It became a very complex story. This theme of a national public trust that the press performs was played out in the press by giving extraordinary freedom to the press.

In the case of broadcasting, a choice was made to have a hybrid system, where we would have government regulation furthering the public trust role of the press but private enterprise being able to compete for licenses. That's a complicated story.

And then, we had public broadcasting that was government-funded. And what was the nature of that? The Court said in one case: "Even though you're publicly funding this, you can't control the editorial content."

So it was a very complex system that was all created in this country. We don't generally appreciate its complexity—that is, we don't integrate broadcast regulation and public television and radio into our sense of the press, but it's there and part of the tradition.

We also had at the same time a very, very important change in the press. That change was growing monopolization of the press in this country. By mid-century and afterwards, 90 percent of communities had one daily newspaper; there was virtually no competition.

Interestingly, as the sense of the press in America became one of serving the public need to have information to govern and providing the critique of government and so on, that very public trust mission, as that developed, the revenues to be able to devote to that also developed. So the press as we know it began hiring, major media began hiring, experts in economics, Ph.D.s in economics, law degrees to cover the courts, people with degrees to cover health, and this and that. It set up foreign bureaus. The press as we know it at the turn of the century is, in part, the product of constitutional decision making, the press developing a culture of a professional role, and the economic conditions to support that.

Now we go to Part 2. Part 2 is what's happening today, what's happened just in the past five, ten years. Of course, we know the story fairly well.

We know that we are extremely dependent upon economic relations with China. The emerging markets now account for more than half of global GDP. The S&P 500 companies, 40 percent of their revenues come from abroad. I cite a number of statistics in the book about foreign travel, about student exchanges, study abroad, about disease transmission. I mean we are in a world that is much, much more interdependent and integrated than ever before. And as I said—I think this is oversimplifying, but it's fundamentally true—I think this is being driven significantly by the opening of markets around the world.

That's wonderful, because hundreds of millions of people are being lifted out of extreme poverty. It's an exciting period. We love the intermixing of cultures. The opportunities for peace and well-being are enhanced. On the other hand, there are great problems, and they are global in scale—climate change, global financial regulation, what institutions are we going to have to deal with these issues, and so on.

Now, we also have at the same time the development of a new technology of communication, the internet, coupled with satellites, that actually makes a global public forum possible. That's what happened in the 20th century with the introduction of radio, television broadcasting, and cable. So we now have a communications technology that supports discussion of this.

The other thing we have, which makes it a harder, more urgent problem, is that the internet and the way it functions is undermining the financial viability of the press as an institution. That's a well-known story now, and a painful story, as we think about the role of the great press in our society and in the world.

And that is something that is having a deep impact on the information we are receiving about the world, because very practical decisions are being made by the press every day to close foreign bureaus, to limit the amount of full-time or part-time coverage of the world, including places where we are at war, in Afghanistan in particular, where we do not have the level of coverage that we need for the engagement that is underway, just as we did not have in Iraq, so the closing of foreign bureaus, the reliance on stringers—and it results in less coverage of international issues in the United States. Because I believe there's a complicated relationship between readers and what they want and what they're provided, we have a case that we are at risk of getting less information at a time we need more.

There is a view that we now have hundreds of thousands and millions of bloggers and that this will make up the difference. I'm of the view—this is a complicated subject, but I'll just say I'm of the view that that's great, but it doesn't make up for what we also need, which is an institutionalized press with professional journalistic values covering the world, just like I believe that we need universities doing more of that too, and that's another story. So at the very moment where we need more and a case for how we're going to do this needs to be made, we're getting less, and so the issue is even more imperative.

The final thing I would say is that we're also facing a world, just like we did at the time of New York Times v. Sullivan, where an action one place to censor or to limit access to the press has an impact everyplace. Censorship anywhere is censorship everywhere is the way I put it in the book.

The most recent example is the Google incident in China, where we suddenly see—and Secretary Clinton makes a speech, which I think is a landmark in many ways, sort of equivalent to New York Times v. Sullivan—suddenly see the world as, that was once a problem for China if information was limited there; now it's a problem for us because we're not getting information we need in order to have this relationship with China and it will chill us here.

I give a number of examples again the book of where actions of what we would call censorship here, elsewhere have an inhibiting effect on our speech and our understanding of the world and our getting information here. So it's an integrated world where censorship anywhere becomes censorship everywhere. That's the risk.

The final part is what to do about this. I offer a number of recommendations and suggestions in the book. It's opening up a whole new area, and, therefore, I want to be tentative at times because I don't feel I know enough.

Let me begin with the need I think most of all for a change of consciousness about this, recognizing that we are in a different situation. Where once—and I think it's captured by this way of putting it—once, not too long ago, we could think about the world as we have our system of freedom of the press and we want to share that with other people around the world, we think that they should also have this and that's a matter of human rights, it's no longer just a matter of human rights—it's very important to think that way—but now it's a matter of a practical problem of how do we get a flow of information to us about the world and to the world, and how do we persuade the world to embrace a system, because if they don't, we will be impacted by it. So a change of consciousness in that very deep sense.

That will have effects on American constitutional law. Just to give an example, if the United States government has a policy, part of our military policy, of disinformation in a society, as arguably occurred at certain times in our Iraq actions in the past ten years, that disinformation may be a good military strategy, we may think of it as a violation of the human rights of people who live in that society. Now we can see it as that getting back into affecting our own political understanding of the world. And, just as it would be unacceptable under the First Amendment to have a government disinformation policy in California to try to change the dynamics there, we would say government cannot do that under the First Amendment, now it becomes a matter of constitutional law here when we do it abroad.

Another example might be a choice that was made in the 1970s by a very narrow margin not to find a news-gathering right under the First Amendment. The argument was very simple: "We cannot," the press said, "really report the things the public needs to know unless we have access to the information that's needed." The Supreme Court, by 5-4, said "No." I would think that's time to reopen that, and the international arena is a good place in which to do it. It would symbolize the First Amendment's interest in this. I make an argument for this in the book.

I think we need to turn to international legal institutions. I say this in part largely as a First Amendment scholar. I think the community of free-speech/free-press people in law schools across the country need to pay more attention to the development of an international legal system. Article 19—we have a base from which to move—the Human Rights Council, UNESCO, the regional treaty bodies like OAS [Organization of American States], and so on—we need to understand these better and pay attention to them and figure out what to build. International trade law, the WTO [World Trade Organization], offers opportunities to integrate press freedom into our understanding of trade. Foreign direct investment, bilateral investment treaties, offer another avenue into trying to open this. These are new things to those of us in the First Amendment community, but they are levers as important as public policy was in the United States in the last century.

And then, there are many other areas, but let me take one and I'll stop. I believe that, and I argue in the book—I believe that when you have an institution, and here we call it "the press," that is supposed to play, and we want it to play, an institutional role in the society, that has this public trust role, we cannot expect the free market alone to produce that, to fully fulfill that mission. I think there are many things to say about this.

We start with the fact that whenever you talk about public funding of the press—I know this because I was a janitor at a press that my father ran, as I pointed out at the beginning—and I know the instinct that journalists have that there will be no public finding of the press, otherwise that will compromise the integrity of journalistic autonomy—and that's deep and rich.

My point is I think we need to understand this very carefully, because if we lose that role of the media as a public trust, if it vanishes in the controlled chaos of the free market, it will be very difficult to rebuild.

My view is we never had a press in a free market. That was part of my point about what the 20th century was. The print media did not exist in a free market; it had a natural monopoly position. It no longer has that natural monopoly position. The upshot is a contraction of international and local news. That is an experience that we are getting with the free market. As I said, we didn't have it.

Broadcasting was not a free market. It never was. It could have been. One of the things the government could have done at the beginning, or at any point, was to auction off all the electromagnetic spectrum to the highest bidders and let them compete and so on. We had a hybrid system, as I said, with the government regulatory agency trying to promote public discussion of public issues.

And, of course, public broadcasting (NPR, PBS) are not in the free market. They exist with public funding plus general donations, as we know.

We also live—I live everyday—with government funding. We receive several hundred million dollars every year from the federal government to support scientific research. We care in the university world as much about academic autonomy as journalists care about journalistic autonomy. We have developed a system—peer review, grants, and so on—that largely insulates us very successfully against government interference in academic enterprise, even with extensive public funding.

Now, I realize there's an argument that the press is more subject to government animosity and therefore—we can talk about that—but we should not think that we have lived in a free-market system and now the question is whether to abandon it, or that other institutions that care about autonomy have not had public funding.

Lastly, I would say if you think about the great journalistic enterprises in the world, BBC and BBC World Service come to mind right away, and those are publicly funded. Other societies view public funding of the media as very important to the achievement of public goals, collective goals, and we have to and we need to rethink this now.

Finally, I would say we have a system that needs to be addressed in exactly this context, where we have a Cold War system conceived where we have a public broadcasting operation in this country and then we have agencies set up to engage in journalism and propaganda for the United States abroad—Radio Free Europe, Voice of America, Alhurra, Radio Marquis. These organizations, which have produced very, very fine journalism, are nevertheless designed to be publicly funded organs of propaganda for the United States.

Oddly, there has been a law forbidding rebroadcast of the speech and press and the journalism of these organizations back into the United States, the Smith-Mundt Act. The reason for that is we don't want government-funded propaganda organs trying to influence the United States. Now, in today's world that's just not feasible any longer—of course it's available—but the law stands.

We need to figure out what is a journalistic enterprise funded by the government for our society and for the world. When you begin to think about a global public forum, all of this comes together as a major public issue.

My own view would be I would love to see an American Broadcasting Service or an American World Service, like BBC World Service. I think we need to be out there competing with our basic, fundamental journalism, and our standards of free press built into that, in a world where there is this emerging public forum and other societies are doing this.

CCTV [China Central TV] is clearly on a mission to try to be the information source for hundreds of millions of people, billions of people. So is it true of France 24 and Russia Today and Al Jazeera and so on. We need to think about how we are going to compete in this world.

So let me stop there. I say at the end of the book this has been a thrilling area to move into. I recognize there are so many parts of this I know far too little about. I would welcome comments and thoughts.

Thank you very much for being here.

Questions and Answers

QUESTION: Lee, thank you very much for that speech. I've got to say it's nice to hear somebody speak admiringly of the press. For years I used to say I was grateful that there were lawyers in the world because they were the only people more reviled than journalists. In that connection, I'm now grateful that there are bankers in the world.

Your talk—I kept thinking of questions and then you would proceed to answer them. I particularly wanted to know what your thoughts were about exporting ideas of freedom of the press, when you have countries like China that are setting themselves up as the model for other countries, trying to extend economic rights to their people while withholding political rights and freedom of the press, arresting journalists; Russia, where journalists are killed on the streets of Moscow with complete impunity. I'm now forgetting the question I finally ended up with by all the ones that you answered in going forward.

The BBC—I lived and worked in England for eight years and appeared on the BBC a lot, and was always grateful for it and missed it deeply when I came back to this country, because the BBC is a news service in which you can speak in full sentences. But when you would tell the BBC or you would tell Britons, "Well, you have a government-supported news service," they would say, "No, no, it's not government-supported, it's supported by the people," because, as you know, there's a license fee. Now, it's obligatory. It's like when you get an automobile in this country, you have to get auto insurance; when you get a television in Britain, you have to pay a license fee to the BBC.

But still, my question is—my worry is—that Americans don't appreciate freedom of the press nearly as much as they ought to. At a time when government control is being protested across the country by people who don't want the government involved, I think it's going to be awfully hard to sell the idea to the American public of any kind of government support. I wondered if you saw what a possible model would be, if the license-fee model is the way to engage the public in a way where they would support freedom of the press and government funding of it.

LEE BOLLINGER: This whole series of thoughts opens up many possible avenues for discussion.

I was just in Davos. This is related to your point about how other societies see—they don't think of it as the government supporting; they think of the society supporting.

On the panel was Christine Ockrent from France 24. In this kind of discussion about public funding of the media, she said, "You know, in France we don't think about it as government funding; we think about it as the state. Governments come and go. After all, the free market is not free of adverse influence. We all know examples of where private advertisers put pressure on the press to do certain things, and people have to pander, and all those sorts of arguments. So it's really the state, it's not the government." It's a very interesting way of trying to separate these conceptually.

The same is true in Britain. As you point out, the BBC is supported—although BBC World is now commercial and BBC World Service is funded out of the Foreign Office, BBC generally is financed by this license fee of £142, I think, on television. That, as you indicate, serves as a way of insulating the public-funding process from direct government control. Now, every ten years they have to go through a new charter.

But when you have annual congressional appropriations, you open up the opportunity for the government to put pressure on, whether it's universities or the press. So you want to design something, if at all possible, that would make the stream of income automatic and not subject to that. We do this in a number of areas.

National telephone coverage—there is a universal fee we all pay that help support local coverage that's built into the fee structure. We could do something like that. We could put a small tax on internet use.

I don't know what this is, in fact. It's one of the things I'm going to work on in the next year, how to think about a model for this.

On the issue of the censorship problems, we see this with China. I go to China every year at least once. If you walk towards the Forbidden City on the major boulevard and you go by news kiosks, you ask for the International Herald Tribune, you ask for The Economist or Newsweek, and they don't sell it. But you go back to the hotel and it's there. We all know the satellite feeds are limited to the five-star hotels and compounds. This is a very big issue for us.

The same is true with indictments that follow in Turkey for people who publish things that offend "Turkishness." That's the law that's in play there and elsewhere.

So how are we going to get the world to change and understand a system of free press that we have? Now, one can say that's imperialistic.

My belief is we have spent a century developing this. We think it produces a better society. We have theories about this, arguments about it, and evidence about it. We need to present that to the world and engage the world in this, and we need to find the fora to do it.

I have a number of suggestions about how to deal with censorship. My major belief is that the best way to deal with censorship is by more information.

That is, that's why I think giving NPR and PBS the funding to be able to go out in the world and establish a journalistic enterprise beyond what we have now is the best idea, because the more information people have, the more they will want. Under our theory of the world that we developed in freedom of the press and free speech, the more people know, the better they are.

Those are some very quick responses and thoughts.

QUESTION: Can you give us your thoughts on how the recent Supreme Court decision, Citizens United v. The Federal Election Commission, might fit into this whole picture?

LEE BOLLINGER: I think this is a large, complicated area. There have been many decisions in the area of campaign finance regulation, many decisions over many years. There have also been significant decisions about the "free speech rights" and "free press rights" of organizations and corporations. So this is not something you wade into very quickly and just render a judgment.

In this case, I think you need to start from some premises. One is corporations are creatures of the state. They cannot exist without the state laws that make it possible for them. There are all kinds of rules that surround them—limited liability, so you can invest in them and you can only lose what you invest, no liability going back to you.

They are designed legally to advance commercial activity. Corporations are not created in order to make political participation more effective. They are created to support business activity. That means that they amass wealth through this particular system, this economic system, with the special rights and privileges that are accorded them through state corporate laws.

Automatically, that leads to the conclusion—it's hard to avoid and wrong to avoid—that no one should think about giving them—that is, organizations created in this way for these purposes—the full political rights that people have or associations of people have in order to advance political speech.

The question then becomes: Are there certain "rights" that ought to be extended to these, and what are the limits of those? We're in the realm now of realizing we are not going to treat these organizations in the same way that we do other associations and individuals. But where are we going to draw that balance?

Now, my own view is that the Court went too far in this area in extending "rights" to corporations. I know it's complicated—there are unions involved; there are other kinds of organizations. I think you want to go right to the core of what it is we are talking about, given the way the Court framed the case. Insofar as it is business corporate rights that are being talked about, I think they under-appreciated or under-recognized the problems of corruption and appearance of corruption and distortion in the political system. In extending these full rights that they did, they overruled very recent decisions, which is, generally speaking, a sign of activism on the part of the Court that is troubling.

That's in general the direction I would go in thinking about this, given the case.

QUESTION: I'm the editor of the International Journal of Intelligence. We're part of the academic discipline of intelligence studies. We have a sister publication, called Intelligence and National Security. We're both published by Taylor & Francis out of London.

We're published here in America. INS is done in London. We have very different standards by which we can operate. They are limited in dealing with certain matters because of the British publication laws on national security. And yet both countries, the United States and Britain, consider themselves as having a free press. They have similar problems in Germany, in France, and others. So there we have a certain kind of self-censorship that is imposed with some limitations by the government.

The second thing—now we get into this point—recently we've had a great deal of Islamist pressure on what we or others can do in terms of publication. Cambridge University Press about two years ago, maybe three, had to withdraw from publication a book called Alms for Jihad, which gave the very strong case on the funding of jihad. The Islamist forces in England sued. Cambridge withdrew the book.

Just recently, Yale University Press published a scholarly work on the Danish cartoon crisis, but in so doing they did not publish the cartoons themselves because of Islamist pressure. That made no sense at all, obviously, since you can't have a book about something without indicating what the thing is all about.

So there we have now external pressures on self-censorship. What do you do about that?

LEE BOLLINGER: I think this is an important elaboration of the fundamental problem we're facing that will get worse in the years ahead. That is to say, not very long ago we could have much more comfortably a world in which you could forbid things in one country and it would not be perceived as having a huge impact here.

Now that is less and less true, both because the way in which we speak now and publish means we are speaking necessarily globally, so you can publish a book and it will end up in a society that regards something in the book as a violation of their laws and it's protected speech here, and now you're subject to prosecution or civil lawsuit there. That has happened in a number of instances in defamation with Britain. So that's point number one. This is now how the world is changing.

The other thing is we need that information more than we did before. So going back to censorship in China, my own view is we want China to evolve as a great society and we want a relationship with China that is extremely positive. This is a great course we are on. But we cannot have that relationship without having the flow of information that makes us able to participate in the world with them. We have to have the information in order to have the relationship. It's an imperative now. In a way, that's what Secretary Clinton recognized. It's a new world.

Now, that means what are we going to do about this increasing kind of conflict and self-censorship that will result? New York Times v. Sullivan could end up in the Supreme Court and the Supreme Court could say, "Alabama can no longer have the law that it now has." We do not have a way to order Britain to change its policies with respect to classified documents and publication, or China to.

Now, that means, I think, a number of things. We have to be thinking about this. We have to devote a lot of intellectual resources to trying to understand it. We have to develop plans for this. It has to become part of a national strategy. It has to engage people here and abroad. We have to find fora in which to discuss this. We have to aim towards legal institutions, because I believe at the end of the day it's only going to be in the context of legal institutions that we will resolve these successfully.

We need to make the case for what we're doing. I argue that "naming and shaming," which is a technique that has been employed, is very important, obviously, but it's not sufficient to deal with the world we have.

We also have to realize we are not perfect in coming into this. That's why I began with the Eugene Debs story. It's not as if we have been perfectly committed to freedom of the press as we know it today over the course of our history. We've had a lot of different views about this—state secrets, classified documents, et cetera. We need to have some humility as we go into this and we have to make the case.

And then we need to think about the levers that are employed. That's why I talk about international trade policy and foreign direct investment treaties and so on.

This is a matter of—just as in this country, there are waves of intolerance that cross the country, not just in laws and not just in public policies and not just the collapse of judicial protections of free speech. But there are moments in American life—the red scare, the McCarthy period, are two prominent examples—where we have faced popular civil forms of restriction on speech.

We have tried to address this through doctrine, through public policy, but through persuasion. I mean our own hope here, I think, is that we engage the world on these issues and we provide examples of the kind—both our own example of how we respect freedom of the press, and we provide the kind of journalism for the world to see what we hope they will want.

I also think that we need to avoid the self-censorship that contributes to a feeling in the world that we will not live up to our principles in our own behavior. So we have to be strong and courageous in the way in which we live as well.

My own belief is that—I've tried to do this in my role as president of Columbia—to be principled about freedom of speech and as dedicated to it as I possibly can, and recognizing that free speech also means robust discussion. The price of free speech is the responsibility to answer. So that's what I believe.

QUESTION: I'm impressed at your mention earlier that there was a risk that we come across as imperialistic when we present precisely your views about open and robust discussion. I recall that back in the days when we still had two big powers in the world, a great part of the world believed that the correct role of the press, a socialist patriotic press, was to serve the people, and that meant usually serving the government that represented the people. We don't hear much about that anymore, but it's very much latent in a great many developing societies.


QUESTIONER: I think that we need to show some humility when we address people out there in the world, in the fact that their view is completely the opposite of our view about what a press does. They can point to things like the absence of shield laws and so forth in our country, which have been addressed by that wonderful institution the Columbia Graduate School of Journalism used to have. The First Amendment Breakfasts used to have quite a few programs about the need for shield laws. That seems to have evaporated, strangely, with the arrival of a Democratic Administration.

I just wondered if you'd talk a little more about the humility issue.

LEE BOLLINGER: I'm humble. [Laughter]

I'll start from where you started. I think it is definitely the case that many parts of the world start from a different premise entirely about the press. The press is an organ of the state, intended to serve the functions and purposes of the state, which itself is responsible to the people. The idea that somehow there is another organization that is responsible to the people and protecting the people against the government is foreign to the way in which they conceive of society. They also believe in principles or concepts like harmony, that we will advance more as a society if we reduce the sense of disagreement rather than expand it.

Now, those are big, big differences. I have no easy answer. What has happened to me is that I, coming from the standpoint of the First Amendment, realizing that this was the agenda and the debate in this country in the last century, which took us a century to define and deal with and come to the place we are now, it now is something that we're going to have to address on a global scale.

And then I have to say: Do I believe in this or not? I mean I could write a book that says, "I don't know what I think about this." Perfectly fine. I wrote a book and it stated my position: I believe in this way of organizing societies.

I think we need to work towards that end, just as people in the last century worked towards the end in this country of a concept of openness that is extraordinary in the world, the most open society ever in the history of the world—that is, more protection for speech than any other society in the world today, and I think any other in human history.

I think we need to understand better why that seems to work for us in order to have a chance of persuading the rest of the world that this is the better route to go. I think we need to figure out ways in which we can try to accomplish this in a practical sense, recognizing the whole time that at the very least the essence of freedom of speech and press is some degree of humility and openness to listening to this world, to engaging with it in a serious way.

But you have to start from someplace, and this is where I think we need to start. At least that's what I advocate. But it's a profound question that you have asked.

JOANNE MYERS: I thank you so much for being humble and uninhibited in your robust discussion. Thank you so much.

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