We often take public opinion for granted or as something that simply exists in the background to our lives. Do we give much thought as to whether it is democratic? Perhaps if we look at the ways that public opinion can appear to be tyrannical, we may see the media’s role and the role of government differently. Do they modify public opinion, bend it to their purposes, or simply react to its incessant, if at time unfocused, demands? Whatever their role, it may be time to reconsider the nature of public opinion in a democracy
It may be surprising to hear that public opinion in a democracy can be tyrannical. In a democracy, we want to believe that public opinion will also be democratic. Yet, public opinion is tyrannical in any community because a community needs to regulate the opinions within it to survive. A democracy is no different. The issue, though, is whether that opinion simply regulates or tyrannizes thought. The challenge for the press is to help with the former without succumbing to the latter.
When Athenians put Socrates to death it was because he refused to acknowledge the gods the city believed. He refused to accept the tyranny of thought that the city had to impose to survive. The alternative was to say that the city’s opinions were wrong and Socrates was right. If they had would that have been a democratic outcome?
Unlike Athens, the press mediate…
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