Ecuador’s Politicians: Public Servants or Redeemers?

Español The controversy surrounding the closure of the magazine Vanguardia and the Communications Law puts forward two different concepts of freedom of expression. This issue is related with how citizen’s individual rights are undermined every time a group of politicians are portrayed as redeemers. The philosopher Ayn Rand described such gimmicks as “ascribing to private citizens the specific violations constitutionally forbidden to the government (which private citizens have no power to commit) and thus freeing the government from all restrictions.”

For example, the government imposes censorship on private participants. In the case of the magazine Vanguardia, many have commented that the owners censored the magazine’s journalists. But actually the shareholders of Vanguardia had no power to prohibit Juan Carlos Calderón and the rest of the journalists in the team from expressing themselves through different channels — like publishing online the last edition of the magazine, as they have done with other projects such as LaRepú — Francisco Vivanco (primary owner and president) and his partners do not have the power that the Ecuatorian government does to silence someone through criminal retaliations, million dollar lawsuits and/or the legal prohibition of certain expressions.

In reality, censorship can only come from the government. When a businessman publishes in his paper an investigation made by one of his journalists, that businessman is risking his money. The investigation can bring the loss of credibility and/or advertisers, as it can also generate earnings, increase reputation, and/or capture a bigger audience of readers.

Following this concept, freedom of expression is the power of expressing oneself without fear of retaliations from the government. Rand adds, “Freedom of expression of particular individuals includes the right to disagree, to not listen, and to not finance one’s opponents.”

On the contrary, within collectivist thinking, it is considered that freedom of expression includes the right of the government to force others to guarantee each and every one of us with the material means to express what we want and were we want it.

This sound very pleasant. But as the material means are always scarce, there is no way that the government can guarantee everyone access to such benefits. The key questions then are, Who chooses the privileged ones for this right? And to whose expense will they enjoy it?

In a free market system of communications, it is the consumers of information who choose the winners and losers. While the businessman who constantly opposes the audience preferences suffers the economic consequences, the politicians with the power to choose the people who are eligible to express themselves freely don’t — and they will hardly have any interest in satisfying the preferences of consumers.

At the end of the day, basically we have to decide if we want politicians to be public servants or redeemers. If we want public servants, Rand considers that the political role of freedom of expression is to: “Protect dissenters and unpopular minorities from forcible suppression—not to guarantee them the support, advantages and rewards of a popularity they have not gained.”

This article first appeared in Spanish in El Cato and El Universo.

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