Why The Raw News? News articles are not always what they seem. Whether it’s counting the future world population, quantifying the deaths following Chernobyl, or determining the safety or the effectiveness of commercial products (from pharmaceuticals to basic foodstuffs), powerful interests routinely succeed in influencing the answers.

In our society, external forces influence strongly what is studied, what is published, and what is reported. When that happens, individuals (or policymakers) no longer have the information to decide rationally and choose thoughtfully. Society becomes dysfunctional at a fundamental level. Manipulation of news can be surprisingly easy. That is because, at every level within it, important articles are typically not transparent (even to other scientists).

Free and Independent Media As modern societies grow in size and complexity, the arena for communication and public debate has become dominated by the media: radio and television, newspapers, magazines, books – and increasingly by newer media such as the Internet and satellite television.

Whether Web logs (known as blogs) or printed books, the media in a democracy have a number of overlapping but distinctive functions that remain fundamentally unchanged. One is to inform and educate. To make intelligent decisions about public policy, people need accurate, timely, unbiased information. However, another media function may be to advocate, even without pretense of objectivity. Media audiences may benefit from various, conflicting opinions, in order to obtain a wide range of viewpoints. This role is especially important during election campaigns, when few voters will have the opportunity to see, much less talk with, candidates in person.

A second function of the media is to serve as a watchdog over government and other powerful institutions in the society. By holding to a standard of independence and objectivity, however imperfectly, the news media can expose the truth behind the claims of governments and hold public officials accountable for their actions.

The media can also take a more active role in public debate through editorials or investigative reporting, and serve as a forum for groups and individuals to express their opinions through letters and articles, and postings on the Web, with divergent points of view.

Freedom of expression is a cornerstone of democratic rights and freedoms. In its very first session in 1946, before any human rights declarations or treaties had been adopted, the UN General Assembly adopted resolution 59(I) stating "Freedom of information is a fundamental human right and ... the touchstone of all the freedoms to which the United Nations is consecrated."

Freedom of expression is essential in enabling democracy to work and public participation in decision-making. Citizens cannot exercise their right to vote effectively or take part in public decision-making if they do not have free access to information and ideas and are not able to express their views freely. Freedom of expression is thus not only important for individual dignity but also to participation, accountability and democracy. Violations of freedom of expression often go hand in hand with other violations, in particular the right to freedom of association and assembly.

Progress has been made in recent years in terms of securing respect for the right to freedom of expression. Efforts have been made to implement this right through specially constructed regional mechanisms. New opportunities are emerging for greater freedom of expression with the internet and worldwide satellite broadcasting. New threats are emerging too, for example with global media monopolies and pressures on independent media outlets.

Countries around the world that have recently emerged from authoritarian and totalitarian rule are discovering that a free political society cannot exist without free news media. Because democracy involves public debate and open decision-making, the free exchange of ideas, opinions, and information is essential. Newspapers, magazines, radio, and television serve as both forums for debate and sources of information on which decisions can be based.

Building an open society is never easy. If the world's new democracies are to preserve and extend their newfound freedoms, institutions that reflect and sustain free communication must be developed in both the public and private sectors. These new institutions can impose a heavy burden of responsibility both on journalists and on politicians. A distinguished Polish editor (who was formerly with an underground newspaper) bemoaned the difficulties of the new liberalized system. "What's the problem?" he was asked. "After years of repression you are now free to publish." "Yes," he responded, "but now we are supposed to find out whether it's true or not."

Journalists, politicians, and officials must learn the difficult lessons of how to interact in a free, open society. Even within long-established democracies this interaction is a struggle. In the emerging democracies, it is both more difficult and more urgent.