Freedom Of Press Essay

2453 words - 10 pages

The Frist Amendment (1791) to the Constitution of the United States (“Congress shall make no law… abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press…”) holds the importance of the freedom of speech and press as one of the most basic rights of US citizens and reporters in the process of upholding a democratic society. Freedom of expression; the ability of people to communicate their feelings and thoughts effectively, without fear of being silenced, is a titanic right the people of the United States possess and is not something that came to them so easily. Neither is the Freedom of the Press; to report on everything that is true, of importance to public knowledge and decision making and reflects on the actions of the government and in effect may hold it responsible in the eyes of the people it serves. Initially however, when British colonists were still in power over the now established region of the United States, censorship (people not being allowed to say what they wanted, particularly in criticism of the Crown or its empowered subjects) was upheld as a right of the crown, a belief necessary to maintaining a controlled empire.
In 1734 however, the first instance of breaking away from British law and emerging towards an American law that propagated a “freedom to print/ publish criticism of the government” occurred when John Peter Zenger published criticism against the colonial governor of New York, William Cosby, in his newspaper The New York Weekly Journal. Zenger was arrested (under the 18th Century British Sedition Law), but was set free once the jury acquitted him based on the argument made by his attorneys that imprisoning him for fairly and truthfully criticizing the government was not the right way to promote justice.
Even though the Zenger case took place before the birth of the United States, it held sway in how the justice system would treat cases such as this and in fact led to some justices believing that criticizing the actions of the government would ensure the survival of a truly democratic state; “The Government's power to censor the press was abolished so that the press would remain forever free to censure the Government” – Hugo L. Black. As such, Freedom of the Press is generally safe guarded in the United States of America and allows a great deal of privileges to journalists in what and how they publish their content. One of the earliest cases that upheld the press’s right to publish and not be face with an injunction (a form of censorship that prevents printing altogether) was Near V Minnesota 1931. Near the publisher of the Saturday Press, printed in his paper that the police force and other public officials were either irresponsible or purposely failing to put an end to known criminal activity and allowing gangs to rule the city. The officials, primarily Floyd B. Olson, brought a suit against the paper based on the Public Nuisance Law of 1925, requiring the paper to be shut down because it was a public nuisance and created...

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