The Press in the Empire

As we would expect among a free people, the Shine and Wild Empire, with which the Shine Cycle is primarily concerned, has a free press. Today’s post is a brief exploration of what that looks like.

Most fundamentally, the only formal, a priori, government restriction that has ever been accepted on what a “press” (whether a newspaper, book publisher, or pamphleteer) may print is on facts or opinions possibly useful to enemy intelligence operations—spies read the newspapers. Herald the Fourth, the king of the Sunshine Kingdom impeached and removed by force in its Civil War, imposed more stringent censorship, but those rules were repealed en masse with the rest of his orders after he was deposed.

This isn’t a matter of “constitutional law” that’s really written down in a document somewhere, though. Instead, while it’s common law that’s cited and explained in countless judicial opinions and implemented in a patchwork of statutes, it’s more of a general presumption: a law demanding censorship before the fact on any grounds other than the strongest military necessity would be met with general laughter, rather than obedience.

But this does not mean that a newspaper may print anything it likes, nor that anyone may sell anything under false pretenses. Facts, reasoned opinion, and honest offers, yes—“truth is an absolute defense”—but slander, “false advertising,” and other demonstrably harmful writing leave their writers (and, to a lesser extent, distributors) open to lawsuits as well as retaliation in print. And damages are often awarded based on how much harm might have been done, rather than actual figures if a lie was suppressed and countered early, though speculative chains of logical consequences are still frowned upon.

Governments rarely subsidize “the press.” This becomes “vanishingly rarely” for newspapers; pamphlet publishers are occasionally hired to promulgate information, and more rarely large quantities of some book or other (often the Bible) will be bought or produced at the public expense. But for the most part “the press” is expected to take care of itself by providing a useful service to the public.

Most major cities have at least two daily newspapers, two weekly papers, and one quarterly “review”—the weeklies sometimes and the quarterlies often specializing in one field or subject. Capitol, the Imperial capital, has at least three daily “general interest” papers, the Capitol Times, News, and Courier, as well as the Capitol Record and Parliamentary Sentinel focusing on the government. The Capitol Dispatch, Weekly, and Inquirer are weekly papers, and in addition to the Political Quarterly and the Academy Review of Books many of the trade journals, guild proceedings, hobbyist magazines, and other specialized quarterly and monthly publications are headquartered there.

Any comments or questions?

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