With the leaders of the G-20 nations gathered in Pittsburgh, this paper and other media covering the summit and all others involved in it need to stop and think for a moment about the vital importance of press freedom.
It is an element that is critical to the functioning of the international political economy and especially to maintaining the confidence of populations in their governments as their leaders make important decisions here.
It almost goes without saying that coordination among the world's leaders is essential to the sound functioning of the world economy. Whether people are enchanted by the idea of globalization is no longer relevant. It is simply a fact, amply demonstrated by the economically catastrophic events of the past year, that if a banker on a corner in Los Angeles makes a loan he should not make, the results are ultimately capable of almost bringing down the world's financial system.
Because of interconnectivity, a Wall Street investment house's marketing of a financial instrument that it does not understand -- or that it does understand and knows to be dangerously risky -- can result in failure across world markets that will put millions of people out of work and require billions of dollars to remedy.
Press freedom, making inside, analytic reporting possible, is an essential antidote to this lethal problem. It alerts authorities, who can then do something about it. Even more important, it alerts the people, who can then demand that the damage be headed off or remedied.
Finally, it provides the element of accountability. There is reason to hope that some financier getting ready to scam the public may be headed off it by media disclosure or potential disclosure.
Because most of the countries represented at the G-20 summit are democracies, most of them enshrine and respect the role of a free press in their societies and systems of government. Three of them, China, Russia and Saudi Arabia, fall short in that area. Others' records are lukewarm. All countries represented, including the United States, need to pay close attention to guarding press freedom.
The price paid for not doing so is very steep. People don't trust their governments. People don't trust a system such as the G-20 mechanism where the leaders of 19 out of 192 governments in the world, representing 80 to 85 percent of the world's economic activity but only 62 percent of its population, make big decisions that affect the well-being of the population of the whole world.
We, the media, can be a nuisance, but we are, in fact, essential to the functioning of the world economic system.