Abstract: Technologizing Freedom: U.S. Media Industries and Human Rights, 1943-1950

Diana Lemberg

Abstract

My paper analyzes the relationship between human rights and U.S. media industries from 1943 to 1950. During the 1940s, diverse American business people as well as journalists, bureaucrats, and intellectuals sought to update the language of liberal press and speech freedoms—traditionally understood as bulwarks against government interference—to reflect and reinforce U.S. global hegemony. Technologizing press and speech freedoms provided the discursive solution to the liberals' dilemma: a transnational vector in which American self-interest appeared to converge with that of media audiences worldwide. The first part of my paper analyzes these rights adaptations—which included "freedom of information," "freedom of the screen," and "freedom to listen and to look"—and their dissemination in American mass culture. Second, the paper frames this discursive maneuvering in light of the expansion of U.S. capitalism after 1945. The anti-imperial critique embedded in technologized freedoms dovetailed with the economic prerogatives of U.S. media industries eager to expand their export markets, both at the expense of British and French colonial spheres of influence and in Europe itself. The onset of the Cold War would dampen hopes for domestic reform but would also clarify the economic motives fueling the United States' freedom-of-information agenda abroad.