Imagine “PRISM” (“Edward Snowden Exposes”). The program allowed

Imagine you are on the phone discussing a very serious matter: one that you could only entrust to someone you consider family. How violated would you feel if you knew that someone was eavesdropping on your conversation remotely and without a trace? Unfortunately, this a real possibility in the modern age. For this reason, in June of 2013, Edward Snowden exposed about 1.7 million classified National Security Agency (NSA) documents, revealing information about a secret government surveillance program “PRISM” (“Edward Snowden Exposes”). The program allowed the NSA to monitor online communications, which was a violation of the Fourth and Fifth Amendments of the Constitution.  Snowden has since commented on his actions, stating that his motive was to “…inform the public as to that which is done in their name and that which is done against them” (“Edward Snowden Exposes”). Snowden was able to inform the public, resulting in an explosion of media coverage. The government, which exists to protect its people, must uphold a relationship of trustworthiness. When the government’s actions fail to promote the best interests of its people, it is the responsibility of the lay citizens to hold their leaders accountable. Edward Snowden’s story proves the power of the media, defined as the total of the outlets for the spread of information, to generate a knowledgeable atmosphere surrounding the opinion of the public on relevant issues. The media’s role in maintaining the balance of power in society is crucial to protecting the peace and safety of the general public. Therefore, it is also the responsibility of the public to fight censorship, the suppression of media that is deemed objectionable by a governing minority. In the modern age of global democratization, censorship is highly immoral because it aims to avert the public eye from the inner workings of an administrative minority that directly affect the lives of an unwitting majority.The media is a powerful and necessary tool for the citizens to hold the government accountable for its actions.  Governments are, under most circumstances, not justified in making secretive decisions that directly affect the public.  Making a decision on the public’s behalf without gathering an opinion assumes that people are incapable of making decisions for themselves.  Media is one of the most common ways for issues to garner public interest.  To illustrate this point, I return to the NSA surveillance issue.  According to a study compiled by Pew Research Center, an organization for nonpartisan social science research, “Fully 87% are aware of the federal surveillance programs; 25% – and 22% of adults overall – say they have changed the way they use technology at least somewhat after the Snowden revelations” (Gao).  This includes the use of email, search engines, social media, cell phones, mobile apps, and text messaging (Gao).  It is safe to assume that since stories based on the leaked NSA documents were published in mega popular newspapers, such as The Washington Post and The New York Times, a large number of people feel informed about the situation to justify a significant change in personal behavior.  If it is estimated that a quarter or more of Americans feel that their privacy has been violated, then it is to the benefit of the public that the media keeps them informed about any potential relevant issues.  Without the presence of the media, how many Americans would have continued with their lives, ignorant to the fact that their privacy was being invaded?  Perhaps a less extreme example of how the media keeps people informed is through the coverage of military activity.  It has been long speculated that graphic television coverage of the Vietnam War turned the public away from supporting the war (Manning).  According to U.S. Army intelligence, “It is undeniable, however, that press reports were often more accurate than the public statements of the administration in portraying the situation in Vietnam,” (“Army reports on”).  Army studies suggest that the rising number of U.S. casualties and the lack of a plan for a decisive victory played a larger role in changing the public perception than media coverage (“Army reports on”).  Regardless of how much of an impact, it is clear that the negative portrayal of the war reflected the public’s sentiment that their government should not continue to involve itself in such a costly affair.Unfortunately, since the Vietnam War the U.S. government has made more of an effort to censor war coverage (Manning).  Such actions undermine journalism’s role in society by attempting to manipulate the general perception or even to blatantly misrepresent the public’s opinion. Chelsea Manning, a former U.S. soldier who leaked classified military documents in 2010, commented on the U.S. practice of embedding a select few journalists into military units:During her deployment she never saw more than 12 embedded journalists in Iraq because the military controls the process.Less well known is that journalists whom military contractors rate as likely to produce favorable coverage based on their past reporting also get preference.  This outsourced ‘favorability’ rating assigned to each applicant is used to screen out those judged likely to produce critical coverage (“Chelsea Manning advocates”).  The practice of embedding journalists can be interpreted as a form of soft censorship: the manipulation of media coverage indirectly to promote a specific viewpoint.  By exclusively supporting ‘favorable’ journalism, the military misused the media in an attempt to create somewhat of an echo chamber of confirmation bias among the American public: otherwise known as propaganda.  In 2010, the American press was declaring success in establishing democracy in Iraq (Manning).  In reality, political opposers of the Iraqi Prime Minister were being detained, tortured, and killed (Manning).  In the absence of fair journalism, Manning took it upon herself to expose the reality of the war.  In post, Manning believes that she made an ethical decision in her situation (Selk).  In an ABC News interview she described the disillusionment she felt towards war: “You’re getting all this information, and it’s just death, destruction, mayhem … And eventually, you just stop. I stopped seeing just statistics and information and I started seeing people,” (Selk).  The disparity between the cherry picked news coverage and Chelsea Manning’s first hand account of foreign affairs suggests a lack of trust between U.S. leaders and people.  By censoring informative content in favor of simplified, unchallenging propaganda, it is impossible for our country’s leaders to say that they represent the interest of their citizens: especially when military spending has been a fiercely debated topic in recent times.  Chelsea Manning summarizes the problem simply: “How could top-level decision makers say that the American public or even congress, supported the conflict when they didn’t have half the story?” (Manning). Censorship is justified when it is used to maintain social order and national security, but a line is crossed when it hinders the general public’s ability to make informed, individualized opinions.  There are numerous valid reasons for organizations to censor information.  Morally questionable or offensive material can cause social chaos or severe financial loss in companies.  Private companies have the right to censor information within their own platforms of communication, and governments have the responsibility of defining the boundaries of free speech laws.  No matter how ethically sound the decisions of Snowden and Manning were, in the eyes of the law they are criminals who presented a threat to national security.  However, their actions bring into question the “delicate balance between national security and the critical mission of the press to inform the public and hold the government accountable” (Eliason).  How confident can the government be in the face of the media to say the truth?  Taking Snowden’s and Manning’s’ experiences into consideration, confidence in world leaders is in decline. Therefore, the first step in rebuilding a relationship of trust should be to reconsider where society draws the line between necessary and immoral censorship.  To reiterate, censorship tips the balance of power between governments and lay citizens, undermining the media’s role as an advocate for a morally just society.  Especially in the modern age of the internet, media is more powerful of a tool for representing the public than ever before.  At the same time however, the increasing involvement of governing bodies with the media threatens to diminish the role of the general public in relevant politics.  Modern patriots Edward Snowden and Chelsea Mannings’ stories resemble that of Paul Baumer: the main character of Erich Maria Remarque’s World War I novel, All Quiet on the Western Front. In twentieth-century Germany, the public is brainwashed by propaganda to send young boys like Paul to join the army. Once in the midst of the war, the youth becomes disillusioned to the glory of war. Erich Remarque, a former soldier himself, wrote his novel as a rallying cry against war and propaganda.  His novel puts into perspective just what might have changed for an entire generation of Germany’s youth, represented by Paul, if someone had rallied against the war.  What if the public knew of the horrors of war that their children would face? That is the power of media to make a positive change for the good of the people. The freedom to receive and disseminate information is a human right that is up to us to protect.