Lesson 2: The Power of Information and the Press

We're going to move quickly through the next two lessons, which cover why information and news, while we sometimes think are small parts of our lives, are things that we are inherently tied to.

This lesson has three interrelated themes to remember: 

  1. There is a universal need to receive and share information.

  2. People kill and risk death over information. 

  3. The battle to control information is also universal and changes with technology. 

There is a constant struggle to control information. Information is powerful and people go to unimaginable lengths to spread it and to control it. Technology has always served to amplify the Power of Information. In Lesson 1, we talked about the historic force of Gutenberg’s press and Zuckerberg’s social media movement. The printing press served to multiply the power of Information, leading the way to greater democratization of access to information, something which ruling elites have jealously guarded since the beginning of recorded history.  The advent of the Internet and more recently Social Media have further democratized not just access to information but also the spreading of it.

In the example above, The Tank Man, or the Unknown Protester, is the nickname of an anonymous man who stood in front of a column of tanks on June 5, 1989, the morning after the Chinese military had suppressed the Tiananmen Square protests of 1989 by force. The man achieved widespread international recognition due to the videotape and photographs taken of the incident.This iconic photograph has long been banned and next to impossible to see on the Internet in China.

Whenever the anniversary of June 4 rolls around, Chinese Internet censors block any term that might refer to June 4, but China’s netizens have been empowered by social media. They have clever ways of evading censorship – instead of June 4 1989, they tried 1089 for a while. Most recently they used May 35 or 535 (may 31 plus 4 days). The government stopped that too, but the human creativity unleashed by social media countered with this picture, which went viral before the censors could stop it.

But the struggle to control information is not just some cat and mouse game played out on the Internet.



Journalists and others have risked being killed for the information that they have discovered, and fought to publish. 

In 2002, Daniel Pearl, the Wall Street Journal South Asia Bureau Chief Daniel Pearl was in Pakistan to investigate links between Richard Reid (the "shoe bomber") and Al-Qaeda. It seemed like a lucky break when he got a call telling him where to rendezvous for an interview with Sheikh Mubarak Ali Gilani in Karachi. A militant group calling itself The National Movement for the Restoration of Pakistani Sovereignty kidnapped him near the Metropole Hotel. Using used a Hotmail address, they declared him a CIA operative and listed the usual demands: release prisoners, change policy, withdraw troops…or else.

There was no response to public pleas from Pearl's editor, nor from his wife Mariane, who was six months pregnant with their first child.

Nine days after Danny Pearl was kidnapped, his captors released a video of his beheadding, and 4 months later, his body was found in a shallow grave at Gadap about 30 miles of Karachi. In the grave was the jacket of the tracksuit Pearl had been wearing. 



Lesson 2 Contents