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International journalism scholar Merrill
teaches Winter Term course


"There are no countries with press freedom," declares John Merrill. "All have controls of some sort on the press. In so-called 'free' nations such as the United States, our press is operated by businesses with a boss and a board or someone who is going to control this medium."

Merrill, one of the nation's most renowned media ethicists and international journalism scholars, spent January in North Carolina as a visiting professor in the School of Communications for winter term, teaching a course titled Global Press Freedom. He spoke to a gathering of communications, philosophy and international studies faculty members during the final days of his visit.

Merrill has visited nearly 70 nations, some of them as many as five or six times. "Everywhere I have traveled, I have always been conscious of the fact that they didn't have a free press, and some of the people didn't even want a press. Many people in the world are simply concerned about feeding themselves every day."

Even the United States, he said, is not a democracy. "You won't find democracy in the Constitution, and the founders did that for a reason; not everyone is up to the job of deciding what our policies should be," he said. "Theoretically, the people in Washington should be, and I'm going to count on them. What we have here is a meritocracy. I'm not the great democrat. Go back to Plato. He saw what happened to his mentor Socrates in that so-called democracy in Athens."

Merrill discounted the value of what is being called "Civic Journalism," the movement by some news organizations to encourage public input in news content. "I think it's stupid," he said. "We need achievers who are knowledgeable in charge of every aspect of our society."

When asked about coverage of the conflict with terrorists and the war in Afghanistan, Merrill found fault with content choices being made by U.S. media organizations. "The media sort of emphasizes the rights of the terrorists and negates the goal we have of ridding the world of these people. Why should the media be exacerbating the situation by stirring the pot all the time? ... On the other hand, the press plays a positive role in giving attention to areas that no one else will look at. I may sound as if I am anti-press, but I'm not; I'm anti-everything," he added with a grin.

When asked about journalism and ethics, he said he thinks that the guru of ethics for media companies in the U.S. is Machiavelli.

"You follow the path you see as ethical," he explained. "Most journalists start out with Kantian-type rules such as, 'Tell the truth.' Most of the world's media leaders are Machiavellian; they do what they need to do to succeed. I guess I'm not being a very positive person, but we're all sinful people. We're achievement-oriented."

Merrill is the author or editor of 30 books, the most recent being "Twilight of Press Freedom." He earned degrees in philosophy, history and English and a Ph.D. in mass communication from the University of Iowa.

He is professor emeritus at the University of Missouri and taught for extended terms in Cairo and Taipei. He and School of Communications Dean Paul Parsons were colleagues when they were both visiting professors in Singapore in 2000.



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