Archive | December 26, 2010

Bank of America and Wikileaks: Frightening Prospects for a Free Press

Recently, Bank of America and several other financial institutions cut banking ties with Wikileaks, effectively shutting them out of the American market. While they will certain be able to bank elsewhere, their ability to perform monetary transactions in the United States are severely hindered. Conservative and Liberal voices both applaud the move, branding Assange and the group “traitors”, despite not being American, and calling for Assange to be shot or assassinated for merely doing what American newspapers and news organizations have been doing for more than 200 years.

This, of course, despite the fact that the Supreme Court ruled in 1971 that the publication of leaked government documents is protected by the Constitution. So much for rightist respect for their sacred document.

Even though not a single person at Wikileaks has been arrested nor tried, Bank of America took the initiative to cut financial ties with the organization, merely because they don’t like Wikileaks and are likely afraid that the publicity will hurt it’s business model. While this may seem innocuous, what it is is an obvious example of the market as instruments against the most important precept of our Constitution, namely a free press and the free exchange of political criticism and ideas.

I have long cringed when listening to individuals discuss America as a “free” country. Our Republic is only as free as the market players will allow. Look at the perverse level of informational control levied by heavy hitters such as Fox News, who knowingly and blatantly manipulate and selectively present news to vast sections of the population to support a rightist, jingoist and often racist agenda. It’s no accident that, although the first country on the planet to legally protect a free press and the freedom to publicly criticize the government, the United States does not even rank in the top ten on the World Press Freedom Index. A sad and embarrassing state, indeed.

The recent move by Bank of America (along with other banks) frightens me. Not in the same way that Obama frightened old ladies during the 2008 election, but the precedent that will be set by financially strangling news organizations, who may present news damaging to market giants. What’s next? Freezing the New York Times accounts because they publish the fruits of Assange’s labor? Preventing NPR from receiving donations during the yearly fund drive?

It’s interesting that this comes on the heels of this weeks decision on “net neutrality.” Republican members of the Congress and Senate both are unwilling to stand up for the voice of the people, but perfectly happy to fight for big business’ right to control the airwaves. Ostensibly, this is intended to create market opportunities, but in the end will only prevent the dissemination of information which competes against their business model. Imagine having to depend on ComCast for news?

It’s true. Banks are not highways. Banks are not power grids, nor are they national parks. But the sweeping powers of banks over every day American life should not be underestimated, nor should those powers be unlimited. All Americans should be more frightened of this prospect, than of any single file that Wikileaks has ever distributed.

Or, maybe we can just let American banks take cues from Hugo Chavez. Or China. Or North Korea. Or Iran.

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