Jonathan Kraut | A Fourth Branch of Government?

Jonathan Kraut

For about two years shy of 20, this Signal newspaper has graciously allowed my thoughts to be read and my ideas to be shared with you without censorship or coercion. 

I often wonder how long our editor and publisher are going to let me write. Perhaps my words gently lull them to sleep and they have little energy to ask me to cease. 

This remarkable local newspaper, since its founding in 1919, has remained local. The Signal hosts opposing views, offers uniquely local political perspectives, and reports on issues found nowhere else. 

What is even more remarkable is not what this and other news media, whether online, on cable, or in print, dispense, but that our media and commentary are largely responsible for the very democratic society that we experience. 

Perhaps we should start to acknowledge and appreciate that we have four, not three, co-equal branches of government. 

A free press is as important to democracy as are the legislative, judicial and executive branches of government. Checks and balances mean the truth has to get out to the voters and the public. 

Look what is happening in today’s Russia. In my last submission, I proposed a way to end the war in Ukraine was for the people of Russia to learn of the harsh truth about the invasion and be motivated to rise up. 

Vladimir Putin has shut down what he considers all unfavorable news and media. Any person or venue that does not report his false messages faces 15 years in prison. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and most unredacted internet content are blocked or censored by Russia. 

Putin knows that he who controls the media controls “the truth.” 

As long as the truth about the war in Ukraine is suppressed, Russians as a whole will be compliant and blissfully unaware of the atrocities their government is waging. 

So clear is the need for a free and flourishing press that in our most sacred document, the Constitution, the freedom of the press is asserted and protected in the very first passage of the first of the Bill of Rights: 

“Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…” 

Democracy is built on open dialog and honest reporting. Voters need to be informed with facts when selecting leaders who act in our stead. 

Russian actions to block the media and propose an alternate reality remind us that freedom of the press and access to information are critically important: Accurate information allows democracy to thrive. 

However, the notion that all speech should be uncensored actually erodes democracy. 

Lies spewing from politicians and news organizations have no place in a democratic society. False information and distortions cause the public to make the wrong choices and form the wrong views. 

In order to safeguard our food supply, the FDA regulates and evaluates food content and labeling. The AQMD regulates the air we breathe. Because we have a right to clean and fresh water, does that mean those with malicious intent have a right to poison our water supply? 

We need an agency to evaluate the veracity of the information we are told. 

The fact that ideas can be shared openly does not mean that everything to include blatant lies and intentional gross misrepresentation should be allowed to pass as equals alongside factual information. 

Especially the “news,” government agencies, politicians and cable shows claiming to offer facts should be severely punished for intentional acts of misrepresentation. 

I propose a Media Court, at the federal level, that assesses political statements, news reports and advertising representations. With simple warnings graduating to severe fines and a public truthfulness rating scale for all the world to see, the public would be better served by knowing who is spreading lies and who is truthful. 

Ideally, the Media Court would rule within days and not years. Citizen volunteers as fact checkers would submit their findings to an oversight panel for final review. Fines would pay for this court. Politicians, advertisers and media organizations could still lie all they want, and liars could stay liars, but at a price. 

Just because speech is free does not mean that intentionally fabricated and misleading speech should pass through unmeasured and unchecked. 

If a free press, such a vital part of our democratic process, is to be sustained and preserved, those who take advantage of this freedom should be called out and pay a heavy price for their misconduct. 

Jonathan Kraut directs a private investigations agency, is the CEO of a private security firm, is the COO of an accredited acting conservatory, a published author, and Democratic Party activist. His column reflects his own views and not necessarily those of The Signal or of other organizations.

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