Freedom of the Press Essay

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Eighty-seven percent of people in the world do not have Freedom of the Press. In 2015, there was the least amount of Free Press in twelve years! In America, we are lucky to have Freedom of the Press. This freedom guarantees the right to publish all true news, even if it goes against the government. However, this concept didn’t always exist. According to one article, “One of the earliest events key to shaping this emerging concept came in the wake of the 1734 arrest of German-born New York newspaper editor John Peter Zenger.” Zenger was charged seditious libel after publishing reprimands about Governor William Cosby. He was declared not guilty because the articles were correct with their information. Another event that set the stage for Freedom of the Press was how many colonists, such as Thomas Paine, published pamphlets as British rule became more unpopular. This allowed the Founding Fathers to recognize the need for a Free Press because it allows those pamphlets to be written, even though they go against the king. The Anti-Federalists were strong supporters of Freedom of the Press. When the constitution was being written, they were not in favour of it because they thought that it gave too much power to a central government that could take away basic rights of the people. Therefore, Congress passed the Bill of Rights, including the Freedom of the Press as part of the First Amendment, that gave rights to the people that the strong central government couldn’t take away. The Bill of Rights was submitted to states for ratification on September 25, 1789 and passed on December 15, 1791. Thomas Jefferson and James Madison were determined advocates for Freedom of the Press. Jefferson originally told Madison about the idea of this freedom, who in turn became a strong supporter and proposed it as well as other liberties protected in the Bill of Rights. In the words of James Madison, “The people shall not be deprived or abridged of their right to speak, to write, or to publish their sentiments; and the freedom of the press, as one of the great bulwarks of liberty, shall be inviolable.” Madison’s hard work paid off, and now, in the words of an article, “The Freedom of Press clause makes it clear that the First Amendment is meant to protect not only freedom to speak, but also freedom to publish and distribute speech.” Freedom of the Press protects people’s right to publish what they believe. It also gives people the freedom to share any injustice through writing, which causes awareness of problems so a solution can be found. However, like other rights, it can be abused.

Near v. Minnesota was an important case that declared some limits on the press unconstitutional. In 1927 in Minneapolis, Minnesota, J.M. Near, who has been described as “anti-Catholic, anti-Semitic, anti-black and anti-labor” and Howard A. Guilford began publishing The Saturday Press. In Minnesota, the Public Nuisance Law of 1925 (aka the “Minnesota Gag Law”) targeted people who constituted a “public nuisance” by writing a “malicious, scandalous and defamatory newspaper.” The Saturday Press began speaking out against future three-term Governor of Minnesota Floyd B. Olson and other Minnesota officials. Because the newspaper was insulting government employees and because t had anti-Semitic views, Olson filed a complaint against Near and Guilford under the Public Nuisance Law. It went to court in November 1927. Olson was the plaintiff, and was also referred to as “Minnesota” because he represented Minnesota officials. He supported the Public Nuisance Law, and believed that The Saturday Press went against it. The defendant was Near, publisher of The Saturday Press. His point of view was that he had Freedom of the Press and could publish what he wanted to, and also that the Public Nuisance Law violated Freedom of the Press In 1931, the case went to the Supreme Court.

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Supreme Court Majority Opinion:
“We hold the statute [Public Nuisance Law]… to be an infringement of the liberty of the press guaranteed by the Fourteenth Amendment.”
“…the fact that liberty of press may be abused does not make any less necessary the immunity of the press from prior restraint…a more serious evil would result if officials could determine which stories can be published…” [this means that even though it can be abused, we must keep the Freedom of the Press or the government will choose what can get published and the people won’t have a voice]

The Supreme Court mentioned the Fourteenth Amendment and not the First because the Fourteenth Amendment says that states must have Freedom of the Press. The First Amendment only prevents Congress from making laws that go against this freedom, not state government, The Supreme Court’s decision did not really favor any side. They said that the Minnesota law which targeted “malicious” or “scandalous” newspapers were unconstitutional. As long as the information was true, a newspaper can report a terrible deed someone committed. However, the Supreme Court didn’t support The Saturday Press because it was anti-Semitic. Even though the case didn’t have a clear winner, it was still very significant. In the words of an article, “Near v. Minnesota… was a landmark the United States Supreme Court decision that recognized the Freedom of the Press by roundly rejecting prior restraints on publication.” Without this case, states might not enforce Freedom of the Press!

Without Freedom of the Press, we would live in a dystopian society. Writers would not be able to publish the truth if it reveals something bad about the government because they would be jailed! However, as Near v. Minnesota proves, this freedom isn’t always used correctly. As one article says, “Nearly all newspapers in the first century of American history were openly partisan, and many published scandalous and vicious rumors about public officials and others they opposed.” These newspapers are similar to the magazines you see in grocery store checkout counters. Both publish fraudulent information that isn’t true and hurts people. However, Freedom of the Press also can help people come together to rally against a cause! Civil Rights Leaders used many Freedoms of Expression, including the press, to fight for their beliefs. After doing this research report, I now feel grateful that I live in a country that has Freedom of the Press while other places in the world do not. This freedom, which seems so simple, is actually very complex and has been challenged many times, like in Near v. Minnesota. People have the right to know the truth. With Freedom of the Press, publishers have the right to publish the truth, even if it goes against the government. I’m glad that this will prevent the government from being really secretive and not letting the people know the truth. As one author writes, “A free press serves as a watchdog for the people, exposing the excesses and failings of government.” Today, people still want to know the truth about the government. In a recent violation of free press, journalists were mad because the White House was denying them the right to photograph important events there. They sent a letter to Jay Carney, Press Secretary at the White House on November 21, 2013.

From the letter:
While certain of these events may appear “private” in nature, the decision of the White House to release its own contemporaneous photograph(s) suggests that the White House believes these events are, in fact, newsworthy and not private.

The restrictions raise constitutional concerns; the journalists should have Freedom of the Press to take pictures. To be an American means you have the right to write, publish, and read the truth, with Freedom of the Press. This idea, formed long ago by John Peter Zenger, is still being debated about to this very day. However, I hope that one day, all people in all countries will be able to enjoy the liberties I am grateful to have in America.

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