19 Kasım 2013 Salı

Quotation: Princeton University A World History of The World, "Newspapers and Goverment"

Liberty Leading the People, 1830 
Forum Question: What role did newspapers play in the relationship between government and people? In what ways was the press used to aid or oppose conflicts?


The rise of newspapers redefined the relationship between people and their government as they not only reported news but also spread ideas, increased public awareness, and influenced political proceedings.

The chief purpose of newspaper reporting is to inform the public. Prior to the newspaper’s rise, people learned of world events by word of mouth, usually disseminating from and supporting the agenda of the government. The newspaper however, directly provided people with details concerning governmental and world affairs, thus freeing them from a reliance on the government to learn of world affairs. Indeed, this independent, seemingly unbiased source of news completely circumvented the government, subjugating their control on the spread of information. Newspapers also helped to spread ideas further and faster. People no longer had to live in cities to learn about “alternative visions for the 19th century.”[1] With the newspaper’s help, they could read about utopian socialism or Marxism whilst in the countryside, allowing the propagation of revolutionary ideals outside of urban centers as well.

Portrait of Charles X, 1829
Newspapers thus shaped public opinion and framed the political debate. People began to look to newspapers as an authority on world events giving reporters the power to shape public opinion to align with their own views. This power worried many, including Charles X’s ministers, who complained that, “The press tends to nothing short of subjugating the sovereignty and invading the powers of the State.”[2] Politicians feared the press’s real ability to influence its readers against the government as newspapers accordingly initiated public political debate. No longer were politics settled internally within the governing body. Newspapers externalized the process, as they opened the forum for public debate in places such as street corners and coffeehouses through their reports of the once secretive governmental proceedings. Again, the newspaper’s power frightened Charles X’s ministers- “The press has excited confusion in the most upright minds—has shaken the firmest convictions, and produced, in the midst of society, a confusion of principles which lends itself to the most fatal of enterprises,”- as they feared seemingly unqualified individuals would insert themselves in the governing process.2

Thus, newspapers directly informed the public, spread ideas, influenced government proceedings, and mediated the relationship between a government and its people.

In what ways was the press used to aid or oppose conflicts?

As mentioned above, newspapers framed the public debate and as their influence grew, they swayed public opinion in support or opposition of government endeavors through the combined use of word and image.

"Justice" By John Tenniel
Newspapers played a large role in the Revolution of 1830 by demonstrating their power and influence—the power to help start revolutions and oust rulers. Charles X made an enemy of the press when he suspended the “liberty of the periodical press” in response to his ministers’ pleas. [3] These decrees however, sparked the Revolution of 1830, or the July Revolution, that ended the reign of Charles X and the House of Bourbon, as reporters and editors from various newspapers joined together in protest and continued to publish. To Charles X’s dismay, “Mangin, the prefect of police, tried in vain to arrest these editors. He made an attempt to enforce the ordinance against the press and also to close the cabinets de lecture where many Parisians read the newspapers.” [4] These reporters and editors successfully used their newspapers to encourage others to resist Charles X and to join the revolutionary cause.

In contrast, other newspapers helped to create a sense of national identity in support of government policies. For example, John Tenniel’s cartoon, entitled “Justice,” for Punch Magazine helped to boost morale and create a national identity throughout England. The cartoon depicts Britannia, carrying the scales of Justice on her shield, crushing the Sepoy Rebellion of 1857. Obviously, this picture is not a realistic depiction of events. Rather, Tenniel seems to be using imperial images to boost national moral and patriotism.

Newspapers used images and words to both inform and shape public opinion as they changed the dynamic in the relationship between the government and the people.

Image Sources:

Portrait of Charles X:

“Justice” by John Tenniel: http://www.history.org.uk/library/0812/0000/0069/punch_justice_295.jpg

Liberty Leading the People, Eugene Delacroix:

[1] Worlds, Page 599
[2] “Charles X advised to check the licentiousness of the press,” Page 100 of course pack
[3] “Charles X’s Ordinance against the press,” Page 101 of course pack
[4] “The 1830 Revolution in France,” Page 61. Pamela M. Pilbeam. Editor: Macmillan, 1991

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