Sometimes life surprises us and shows us different versions of seeing things and forces us to change the perspective from which problems are examined. Last weekend the World Law Congress, having as headquarters the prestigious New York Bar Association. Said event was the recipient of many important personalities, such as presidents of the supreme courts of various countries -among them the Mexican minister Norma Piña-, lawyers from different parts of the world and professors, among other leaders of their respective branches.
In the Congress, various topics were discussed, ranging from caring for the environment, the energy transition, legal stability, the future of democracy and many others. Specifically, there was a panel –of which I had the honor of being a part– that sought to answer the following question: is independent journalism capable of surviving in this era? I had the opportunity to share this discussion space with three personalities who have stood out as great leaders with a significant impact in their corresponding sectors.
The first of them was one of the last living legends of American journalism and who was in charge of the boston globe when the explosive case of pedophilia carried out by some priests of the Catholic Church was uncovered. The investigation called Spot light It was awarded in multiple branches –including an Oscar for best film– and it was an exceptional journalistic work guided by Martin Baron, who after his leadership at the helm of the Bostonian newspaper held the position of director of the Washington Post. Years after being the newspaper that carried out the successful investigation of the scandal water gateon August 5, 2013 Jeff Bezos acquired the Washington Postforming a strange alliance between the new economy, the new powers of the world and the safeguarding of the right to independent and free information, with Marty Baron leading this new stage of the newspaper.
Another of the panel participants was Juan Luis Cebrián, who was the creator and first director of the newspaper The country. Thanks to his leadership at the helm of this newspaper, which was launched months after the death of General Franco and which became the representative and the best reflection of the Spanish democratic transition, this stage in the history of Spain was exemplary for different countries and regions around the world, especially in Latin America.
Lastly, there was the participation of Ambassador John Feeley, who was the first to have the courage to present his resignation to Donald Trump after his arrival at the White House and who, in the different functions he has carried out around the continent, has stood out as a great diplomatic leader. Ambassador Feeley has always had a special sensitivity – of which we Mexicans can be witnesses – when it comes to strengthening the relationship between the press and the government, reviving what Thomas Jefferson once said that it is preferable to have “a press without a government than a government without a press”.
Since the creation of the propaganda bureau by Napoleon and with the Duke of Otranto in charge until today, the main threat of free information has come from power. The powers have had and wanted to remove witnesses, eliminate criticism and consolidate worship to their actions. The only thing that has changed over time is not the behavior of men, but what has truly changed is the perception and common sentiment of societies. This is a struggle between the press and governments that has been raging for centuries and which, on the one hand, seeks absolute control, while, on the other, what is sought is freedom of expression.
Before, the greatest danger was autocratic and dictatorial tendencies. Today, in my opinion, the danger is different. For some years now, the owners of the information have been the ones who lead the big technology companies. These characters, including leaders such as Elon Musk, Mark Zuckerberg, Larry Page, among others, are the ones who –through the use and application of algorithms and artificial intelligence– have taken over our tastes and preferences, clearly manipulating us. Artificial intelligence has not only taken over our intimacy, thought and behavior, but is also capable of making us believe that the platforms presented to us are the result of what we really want.
The control exercised over us is a control that, in my opinion, has been and is possible for two reasons. The first, due to the depreciation and incorrect use that has been made in the use and exercise of the laws. The second, due to the complete abandonment of respect for the truth. Starting from the premise that there cannot be an efficient government without laws or laws without governments that comply with them, in journalism, in politics and in today’s world, such fundamental truths and which are also the pillars on which our societies are built, such as respect for the truth and the established order, are in clear decline and degradation.
To give an example of the above, in a country like the United States, lying in court or in the middle of a legal process is classified as a crime and can lead the person who commits it to spend time in jail. However, that did not prevent a lying Republican from reaching the Presidency of the country. In the case of the president of the tweets, Donald Trump, the lie was very evident. In the case of the current US president – we are not really sure that he can create a tweet on his own – the lie is less evident and there is less evidence about the manipulation of the concept of truth.
In the midst of a context in which the current governments have lost the battle against the great technologists, the world today and its future is not in the hands of the Oppenheimers –a character so fashionable lately and remembered for being the one who discovered the atomic bomb–, but rather the world is currently at the disposal of those who build the algorithms. Some intoxicating algorithms that are used to direct us and to dictate our behaviors.
Some argue that political elections are no longer an issue that concerns and worries politicians, strategists and political scientists and that they have become a road map drawn by the companies that lead the artificial intelligence sector. First, these tools are put at the service of a candidate or political party, although we must be aware that later they can be put at the service of any political offer, no matter how much this form of government may resemble the establishment of a Fourth Reich.
These, among many others, were some of the conclusions of this congress and of many of the panels. Democracy is under siege and it is because it has become a platform through which whoever holds power is capable of violating and destroying everything that does not go according to their plans and interests. Any political representative who wins the elections and seizes power has the right to change the laws, that comes in the powers that are granted to him from day one. However, what is not justified is the violation and, in some cases, the destruction of existing orders.
Without programs or visions whose main objective is to improve the conditions of societies, it is impossible to ensure the development and continuity of democratic structures. And within the debate that has freedom, legality, respect for the truth and the construction of the future as fundamental principles, I believe that this is the biggest problem and threat we are currently facing.