Ten Heresies of Free Press

A lot of the Post-colonial critics view Western contributions to human rights more like this–a double edged sword. I guess I’ve always been surprised this way of critically looking at the benefits as well as harm that “doing good” can cause hasn’t been more thoroughly discussed. I think Teju Cole is one of the first to articulate why that is the case (at least here in the States) though I’m afraid that calling it part of a “White Savior Industrial Complex” might make it more of a difficult sell to Americans (as well as most Europeans). The rest off Mahbubani’s “Ten Heresies of Free Press” are in his book (they were first presented at a Seminar or Asian and American perspectives of Democracy and Capitalism in Singapore in ’93), “Can Asian’s Think?”

The intro to the chapter summarizes why Kishore Mahbubani presented the Heresies:

“Yet, when I tried in seminars at Harvard University to challenge the universal applicability of democracy, human rights or freedom of the press, I discovered that these values have become virtual “sacred cows”. No one could challenge their intrinsic worth. Worse still, when I persisted, I was greeted with sniggers, smug looks and general derision. The general assumption there was that any Asian, especially a Singaporean, who challenged these concepts was doing so only in an attempt to cover up the sins of his government.
I am as convinced now as I was then that the aggressive Western promotion of democracy, human rights and freedom of the press to the Third World at the end of the Cold War was, and is, a colossal mistake. This campaign is unlikely to benefit the 4.3 billion people who live outside the developed world, and perhaps not even the 700 million people who live inside it. This campaign could aggravate, rather than ameliorate, the difficult conditions under which the vast majority of the world’s population live.”

From a discussion I had on facebook: https://www.facebook.com/sarah.e.watkins/posts/275172499228393

The Ten Heresies of Free Press are:

  1. Heresy No. 1: American journalists do not believe in the Christian
    rule “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you”.
  2. Heresy No. 2: Power corrupts. The absolute power of the Western
    journalist in the Third World corrupts absolutely.
  3. Heresy No. 3: A free press can serve as the opium of society.
  4. Heresy No. 4: A free press need not lead to a well-ordered society.
  5. Heresy No. 5: Western journalists, in covering non-Western events,
    are conditioned by both Western prejudices and Western interests.
    The claim of “objective” reporting is a major falsehood.
  6. Heresy No. 6: Western governments work with genocidal rulers when
    it serves their interests to do so.
  7. Heresy No. 7: Western governments will happily sacrifi ce the human
    rights of Third World societies when it suits Western interests to do so.
  8. Heresy No. 8: The West has used the pretext of human rights abuses
    to abandon Third World allies that no longer serve Western interests.
  9. Heresy No. 9: The West cannot acknowledge that the pursuit of
    “moral” human rights policies can have immoral consequences.
  10. Heresy No. 10: An imperfect government that commits some human
    rights violations is better than no government, in many societies.

One thought on “Ten Heresies of Free Press

  1. This is a good topic to discuss, and he makes some very strong points, many of which I agree with in spirit, but I have to wonder why he chose to include Heresies 6-10, since they don’t really seem to have anything to do with the Press… one would think they belong on a different list, like “Heresies of Western Liberal Democracy” or something along those lines.
    It’s strange to connect these attitudes, especially ones like Heresy Nos. 7 & 8, with anything other than the real underlying source, which is Capitalism.

    But of course a loyal Singaporean wouldn’t dare attack Capitalism… no he just wants to attack people who dislike the “Asian Values” that Singapore has attached to Capitalism.
    Thank you Singapore, for showing the world that Capitalism doesn’t bring “freedom” or “human rights” to an oppressed populace, and that it certainly doesn’t need those conditions to be successful. If anything, they’ve shown that Capitalism THRIVES under oppression.


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