TCS Daily

Trackback to Freedom

By Joshua Livestro - March 1, 2005 12:00 AM

NOTTINGHAM, England -- In the autumn of 1989, I took one of the most memorable courses of my entire university career. At the start, it was called "Communist Regimes"; by the end its title had changed to "Post-Communist regimes and societies." Every week saw another tyrannical regime bite the dust. The lecturer, a Polish exile with strong libertarian sentiments, threw up his hands in joyful despair at the news that even as he was speaking, people were gathering in the centre of Prague to demand the immediate departure of the communist oppressors. That was another chapter gone from the outdated textbook.

Prague's Velvet Revolution has become a template for peaceful regime change. The symbols may change - a key ring in Prague became orange clothing in Kiev and now a Cedar Tree flag in Beirut - but its effect is always the same: the spectacular collapse of the old order and the triumph of liberty. The collapse of the Syrian-sponsored puppet government in Lebanon has, for the first time, brought the Velvet Revolution into the Arab streets.

So far, it all seems to be following the 1989 script. But there is one crucial difference: whereas in 1989 the eyes of the West were firmly fixed on events in Eastern Europe, the Western media now seem reluctant to get too involved. That could make all the difference. The main reason why the tyrannical old regimes in Eastern Europe couldn't survive was because of the omnipresence of Western news media. Their cameras not only served as a first line of defense against possible repressive measures, they also helped to draw in more people (partly because of their very presence, partly through the news that they broadcast). These people in turn drew in yet more cameras, until eventually the growing snowball crushed the helpless communist regimes. Opposition leaders proved to be very skillful at using the media to communicate with the demonstrators. They even learned to influence the content of news coverage by stage-managing events, thereby putting yet more pressure on the old regime.

In Lebanon, there are far fewer camera crews, and news coverage in the mainstream media is sparse. Whereas coverage of events in 1989, as well as those in Kiev last year, was more or less continuous, with broadcasting corporations throughout the world chipping in, events in Lebanon have been covered by just a few camera crews, with most Western news broadcasts devoting only a few minutes at most to the historic developments there. And the Lebanese protesters are the lucky ones. Recent protests in Cairo, which forced the old dictator Hosni Mubarak to turn a referendum on an extension of his presidency ("Do you want me as president or do you want to be thrown in jail?") into a multiparty election, got no MSM coverage whatsoever. Without continued media presence and pressure, however, these elections are likely to be neither free nor fair.

Over on National Review's The Corner, Middle East expert Michael Ledeen emphasized the importance of "maintaining the revolutionary tempo," calling for "ten, one hundred, one thousand Beiruts ... Today Beirut, tomorrow Damascus, Riyadh and Tehran. And then we will see what is left of the terror network." One final giant push on the part of freedom-lovers everywhere might make all the difference: "This is our moment, and the tyrants know let's win the whole thing."

Ledeen is right: it is essential that the tin-pot tyrannies of the Middle East aren't let off the hook now. Ideally, MSM news crews should increase their presence in the Arab streets, making straight paths for the demonstrators on their march to freedom. But we all know the MSM: they've never come across a dictator they didn't like or at least want to be friendly with in return for "access" (access to what, by the way? The truth?). The idea of actually contributing to the very democratic revolution President Bush has been calling for is anathema to them. After all, why risk a future Democratic victory by supporting a mere democratic victory? Instead they'd rather waste everyone's time with stories like this.

This neglect on the part of the MSM creates a historic opportunity for the blogosphere. Enterprising bloggers should take their notepads, their webcams and their electronic cameras and head for Beirut and Cairo (the most likely next stop of the Freedom Express). Freedom's hour is also the bloggers' challenge. It's time for them to get out of their studies and into the streets. The unfiltered truth as broadcast by them could help to set hundreds of millions of Arabs free, thereby making the world a safer place for liberty and democracy.


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