This week, Project Syndicate catches up with Anya Schiffrin, the director of the media and communications program at Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs.
Project Syndicate: In 2018, you warned that, while stricter regulations on media, including social media, might seem like a good way to curb the dissemination of false information, “laws that seem reasonable on paper…can easily be abused.” As the COVID-19 pandemic underscores the potentially deadly consequences of misinformation, how can the need to limit it be reconciled with the imperative of preserving press freedom?
Anya Schiffrin: There are many good examples from European democracies that can offer lessons to other countries. Germany has laws against Holocaust denial, and it is still a vibrant democracy with a free press. Spending limits for political advertising – enforced in many countries, such as France – bolster democracy.
In the United States, the courts have taken an extremely expansive view of the First Amendment, which protects free speech. There, it may be worth shifting the focus from the speaker’s right to say whatever they want to the listener’s right to accurate information.
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We ask all our Say More contributors to tell our readers about a few books that have impressed them recently. Here are Schiffrin's picks:
by Isabel Wilkerson
This book – which describes the migration throughout the twentieth century of black people from the American South to northern and western cities in search of jobs – had been on my “to-read” pile for a few months. Now I cannot put it down. A Pulitzer Prize-winning author, Wilkerson shows how the South was essentially an open-air prison for black people, and those who fled were fighting for their lives. Sharecroppers, fruit-pickers, even educated people were in danger of being lynched at any moment. The cruelty and exploitation Wilkerson portrays are truly horrifying.
by Leslie Maitland
A former New York Times investigative reporter, Maitland offers a stunning account of her mother’s escape from France during World War II and her strange obsession with the high-school sweetheart she left behind. Like any good investigative journalist, Maitland went to France and undertook a forensic examination of old records to reconstruct her mother’s life and – spoiler alert – her father’s surprising involvement with Ayn Rand.
by Victor Pickard
Upon finishing this book, I felt encouraged by Pickard’s sensible and feasible recommendations for ensuring the survival of quality journalism. Pickard, who has spent much of his career thinking about this question and observing what works, makes a compelling case for publicly-funded journalism.
From the PS Archive
Schiffrin examines why the rise of digital outlets has not enhanced press freedom or the quality of reporting. Read more.
Around the web
After the 2018 World Economic Forum’s annual meeting in Davos, Schiffrin discussed her decision to walk out on Trump’s speech, and considered why only one other person did the same. Read the commentary.
Schiffrin and George Lugalambi co-edited a collection of some of the most powerful African investigative journalism of the last 75 years. Find the book.