The Fourth Estate

Bardumon was reading The Chronicle. 'Ah!' he said, putting it aside. 'There is nothing like a good newspaper.'

'You're right,' said Master Tze. 'They make the best mulch.'

'You don't read them?' Bardumon looked astonished.

'Not if I can help it.'

'How do you know what is going on in the world?'

'I look around,' said Master Tze.

'But what about things beyond your immediate environment? How can you become an informed citizen?'

'I listen to what people say.'

'But you can't make plans if you don't know what's going to happen?'

'So newspapers predict the future, do they?' Master Tze asked.

'They give you trends,' answered Bardumon. 'Among other things.'

'So they will tell me how long a war will last and if there's going to be an earthquake or a stock market crash.'

'Not those things,' Bardumon answered.

'Only important things,' Master Tze said.

Bardumon frowned at this irony. 'Well, at least they keep politicians honest,' he said.

'Ah,' said Master Tze, 'if a newspaper can keep a politician honest, it is a wondrous thing indeed.'

Some commentators have taken this anecdote as evidence that Master Tze is a political reactionary. They may be right but he is not as reactionary as they imagine. He is a staunch supporter of freedom of the press, for one thing.

Teapot buddhists believe in caring for useless things if they are worthwhile. They see the value of newspapers as largely symbolic. Nobody wants to live in a society that throws people in gaol for expressing their opinions. Thus, it is essential that newspapers exist and are free to say what they like. It is just a mistake to read them, that's all.

© Chris Else 2008